Individuals generally think of an estate plan as consisting of a will, trust and some other documents an attorney may prepare. However, there are three simple steps you can take (that do not require a lawyer) to help ensure your estate plan is properly implemented and to reduce financial and emotional cost to your loved ones:
- List Accounts: Separate from your will, you should keep a document that outlines all of your financial accounts, contact information, account numbers and any stated beneficiaries or special characteristics. This will assist your family and personal representative in identifying, collecting and distributing assets. It further increases the chances that no assets will be “forgotten” and will help reduce the necessity of your estate having to hire an asset search company. This list of accounts should notbe included with your will as it could then become a public document. Rather it should be kept with your estate documents with a specific letter of instruction to help guide your personal representative or family member(s).
- Proof of Ownership: Similar to the previous point, you should keep a folder with key documents that reflect your title or interest in your assets. This may include a copy of your car title, deed for real property, retirement account statements, investment account statements, etc. The purpose of these documents is to not only help identify assets but to help prove ownership in the event a dispute arises.
- Personal Letters: Take some time to write a personal letter to each of your loved ones. In these letters you can express how you feel, reflect on moments you shared and otherwise communicate any feelings that you don’t want to go unsaid. This is an opportunity for personal reflection and can help bring into perspective each of your relationships.
These documents should be updated regularly. A good time to do it may be when you are preparing to file your taxes as you will be reviewing a lot of the information which relates to these goals.
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