Skip to main content
Home / Fraud Center

Estate Planning Guide and Checklist: 10 Tips to Get Started

According to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), nearly 60% of all Americans are without a will or other essential legal documents.  Many people think estate planning is reserved for the rich, but it’s in your best interest to plan for who you want to receive your stuff after you pass away.  Without your own legal documents, most states will make that decision for you through their intestate laws.  One of the easiest ways to make sure that all of your money goes where you want it to, is through current beneficiary designations on any account that allows this choice.  Then a will can cover anything that you own that doesn’t have a beneficiary option.

older couple sitting with financial advisor

An estate plan is designed to serve as a road map for dividing assets when you pass away and how you want to handle your things if you become unable to do it yourself. You’ve spent your entire life building your estate, no matter how big or small, and it’s in your best interest to decide how you want your assets distributed after you pass away.

Who Needs an Estate Plan?

Everyone should invest time in the estate planning process, and find an estate planning attorney to draft the legal documents that you need.  Estate plans cover healthcare, long-term care, who will manage your finances, and who will look after your children. Estate planning is intended to guarantee your wishes are upheld after your passing and help make things easier for your loved ones to navigate. When family members are grieving, you don’t want them to be left thinking about financial and legal matters. Proper estate planning prevents this from being an issue.

Estate Planning Checklist

There’s more to estate planning than simply creating a power of attorney. It’s about accounting for all your assets and wishes to ensure your plan is executed in the way you intended. Below are some tips to help you start planning the management of your estate and making beneficiary designations.
  1. Take Inventory of Your Assets: Go through the inside and outside of your home and make a note of all valuable items. By the time you account for jewelry, vehicles, art, antiques, electronics, yard equipment, and anything else valuable, you’ll probably end up with a longer list than you expected.
  2. Take Inventory of Non-physical Assets: Make a note of any brokerage plans, 401(k)s, bonds, IRAs, bank accounts, insurance policies and other insurances.
  3. Account for Debt: Make a list of any credit cards, loans, mortgages or other debts you might have. Include account numbers and agreements to make things easier for your loved ones.
  4. Make Copies: Once you have your lists completed, you should date and sign all copies, give one copy to an estate administrator, your spouse, or child, and put one in a secure location in a safe or safety deposit box.
  5. Update Beneficiaries: To make sure your wishes are executed, be sure to update all beneficiaries on your retirement accounts, life insurance policies and annuities.
  6. Transfer on Death Designations: Many accounts that you have, such as bank savings, CD accounts and individual brokerage accounts, can be set up to transfer on death (TOD). Doing this prevents these funds from going through probate and ensures beneficiaries receive assets.
  7. Choose an Estate Administrator: An estate administrator will be in charge of executing your will if you die. Choose someone responsible, trustworthy and neutral.
  8. Review Your Estate Regularly: Even if you’re young, you should take time to update your will and estate planning checklist regularly to ensure things are current. Life changes in an instant, so you need to keep things up to date.
  9. Review Your Estate: Meeting with an estate attorney or a financial planner can help you plan for the future in a way you might not have considered.
  10. Don’t Procrastinate: Why is it that nearly 40% of people don’t have a will or estate plan? It’s because people always think they have more time. Procrastinating the estate planning process will only make things more challenging for your family and loved ones when you pass away.
There’s no time like the present to start the estate planning process. At First National Bank and Trust, we believe estate planning helps you manage and preserve your assets while you are alive and conserve and control their distribution after your death. Our Wealth Management team specializes in providing sound financial advice and can help you with your estate planning.  They can refer you to an estate planning attorney in Southern Wisconsin or Northern Illinois who can write your legal documents, if you do not already have one. Contact our Wealth Management Team or find a First National Bank and Trust location near you.