Estate planning is often a confusing topic, and the implications for planning the financial future of your loved one’s after you’ve passed can add emotional stress to the existing mental stress. In an effort to simplify and help you navigate through the legalities behind estate planning, we’ve created this simple, eight part checklist to help you grow your understanding.

1. Write up a will.

Naturally, writing a will is one of the first steps of estate planning. Simply put, a will is a legal document in which you declare to whom you’ll be leaving your property, in addition to naming a guardian to care for any young children you may have.

2. Think about utilizing a trust.

Giving your survivors an opportunity to avoid probate court is, generally speaking, a good way to simplify the process of estate distribution, and can cut legal costs. Choosing a living trust has innumerable benefits.

3. Declare a financial power of attorney.

Estate planning extends beyond death, and should often be considered in the event of an incapacitating accident. A financial power of attorney is important to estate planning as they have the legal capacity to manage and handle a person’s finances or wealth in the event the declarer is unable to act.

4. Protect your children’s property.

If, at the time of your passing, you have children who are minors, it is important that you name an adult to manage any money or property which you may leave to any child survivors.

5. Declare or file beneficiary forms.

Don’t forget to name a beneficiary to any bank accounts or retirement plans you may be in possession of. As a part of estate planning, naming a beneficiary makes it so that these accounts and assets are automatically “payable upon death”, and this allows funds to skip the previously discussed probate process. In most states, you can also registered other assets, such as stocks, bonds, or brokerage accounts to a beneficiary as well.

6. Protect against debt.

If you believe you’ll owe significant debts or estate taxes when you die, life insurance is a great way to protect against your children inheriting your debt.

7. Learn and understand how estate tax works.

The vast majority of estates – over 99%- won’t owe federal estate taxes. However, some states do have state taxes that might leave your estate taxable. Knowing the instances in which this might happen are important.

8. Protect Your Business & Store Your Documents.

If you are a business owner, it is important that you declare a successor or initiate a succession plan upon your death. If you are a co-owner be sure to have a formal, legally binding, buyout agreement declared. Make sure all legal documents are in the care of your attorney-in-fact or executor.

Still uncertain? Contact Schwartz, Fang, and Keating for more information on Estate Planning.