Estate Checklist

IF YOU’RE UNDER AGE 50, you might focus on the first three items on the estate planning checklist below. Those already retired or approaching retirement should probably consider every item on the list. Here are some key components of a well-thought-out estate plan:

  • A will that specifies who should inherit those assets subject to probate. Drawing up a will becomes especially crucial once you have children, not least because you’ll want to name guardians for your kids.
  • The right beneficiaries listed on your life insurance and retirement accounts.
  • Correct titling on major assets, such as your home and cars.
  • Regular gifting to take advantage of the annual gift-tax exclusion.
  • A revocable living trust if probate is a cumbersome process in your state or you own property outside the state where you have your primary residence.
  • Trusts to control how your assets are disbursed, which could be crucial if, say, you are remarried but you want your assets eventually to go to your children from an earlier marriage.
  • Steps to reduce federal and state estate taxes, if either could be an issue. You should also give some thought to the embedded income tax bills in your traditional retirement accounts, which could be the biggest tax headache your heirs face.
  • Financial and medical powers of attorney in case you become incapacitated.
  • A personal letter, or letter of last instruction, that provides additional details and spells out how your personal possessions should be disbursed.

For additional information, check out, where you will find a host of articles on estate planning and other legal issues.

Next: Gift-Tax Exclusion

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