- Who is to be named executor and contingent executor of your estate? You will want to choose someone, preferably in the family, who has financial or accounting skills and the time and personal interest in fairness within the family.
- Has a funeral home/cemetery been chosen (pre-paid) to help the executor with final affairs? Have you considered a medical power of attorney/directive for any life-saving decisions? Has organ donation been considered? Have burial or alternative wishes been reviewed? A letter of instructions regarding these items should be left with the executor outside of the will, since the will is typically read after these decisions need to be made.
- Is there a safe deposit box? Instruct executor as to its contents and to remove items quickly after death. Do not keep insurance policies or wills in a safe deposit box.
- Keep all important paperwork, such as wills, insurance policies, IRAs, etc., in a fireproof box at home. Be sure to advise the executor of the location of the box and keys.
- Consider Durable Powers of Attorney on both spouses to make financial decisions for incapacitated spouse.
- If you have minor children, who has been named guardian and contingent guardian for them? Have you sat down with the guardians regarding your wishes as to various items, such as schooling, etc.? What specific assets have been carved out of the estate to use for their upbringing and schooling? Is it specific in your will? Should you consider a corporate trustee/guardian to help with financial decisions?
- Discuss with your attorney the use of Revocable Living Trusts as another means by which to manage and distribute your estate. Assets that are properly titled in the name of a Revocable Living Trust bypass probate, saving time and expenses associated with settling one’s estate. Depending on your situation, your attorney may incorporate Marital and Credit Shelter Trust provisions in a Revocable Living Trust in an effort to protect assets from federal and/or state estate taxes. For maximum flexibility, the trust may be drafted with disclaimer provisions that allow a surviving spouse to make important estate tax planning decisions only if and when such planning is necessary. If you have children from a previous marriage, you may want to discuss a Qualified Terminable Interest Property (QTIP) trust with your attorney to ensure your children inherit the remainder of your estate.
- Ask about Living Wills (healthcare directives). Make sure the living wills have the new Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) language in them. Think about “Right to Life Issues” and what you would want done or not done in life support matters, since the attorney will need to know your wishes.
- Take the time to list any special items from your estate, such as jewelry, cars, home, collectibles, etc., that you would like to go to a certain family member(s). Consider any desired charitable bequests in your will/insurance policies. Put this list with your wills. Do you have some highly appreciated assets? Ask your attorney about charitable remainder trusts.
- Have your life insurance policies been made current as to proper beneficiaries? Are contingent beneficiaries used?If beneficiaries are minors, a trustee must be named. Are the beneficiary provisions correct on qualified plans for “stretch” payments to your beneficiaries?
- Discuss ownership issues of assets and life insurance in your estate for federal estate tax consequences.
- Bearing in mind that a picture is worth a thousand words, diagram the recipients of your assets at death like a “family tree,” naming the surviving spouse, children, grandchildren, nephews, nieces, charities, and/or others.
Stifel does not provide legal or tax advice. You should consult with your legal and tax advisors regarding your particular situation.