Guide to the Estate Planning Process


Estate planning isn’t just for the wealthy. Having a plan set in place is a crucial part of financial planning if you want to provide for your relatives and meet your financial goals. An attorney can assist with the estate planning process and help you create a plan suitable for your life circumstances and wishes.

True, no one likes to think about their own mortality. And you might even believe that compared to death, the thought of planning for your assets doesn’t matter much. These ideas aren’t uncommon, which explains why less than half of Americans create a will in their lifetime.

But just because you’re gone doesn’t mean the question of who your assets will go to stops mattering. In fact, the family members you leave behind will be the ones who have to deal with it. This can be prevented by signing some documents and executing a will, all as part of the estate planning process.

“Regardless of how much or how little money you have, a will ensures that whatever personal belongings and assets you do have will go to family or the beneficiaries you designate,” said financial writer Deborah Fowles. “If you own a business, a will can help ensure smooth legal transition of those assets.”

The Estate Planning Process

When you plan ahead and create an estate plan, you’re saving your family unnecessary expenses and aggravation. Think about it, when they have just lost someone, are your loved ones going to want to handle even more stress? You can help ease their burden by following these steps.

  1. Know Why a Will is Necessary

A will is your chance to decide who will gain access to your assets when you pass on. If you pass on without a will, also known as dying “intestate”, it’s the court that will choose who gets what. This is done without regard to the needs or wishes of your heirs or your personal preferences.

The details will vary depending on which state you live in, but if you pass on and leave behind children and a spouse, they will generally get your estate. If you don’t have children, it will probably go to the blood relatives you leave behind. Wills are especially important if you have minor children as a will is your chance to nominate a guardian for them.

  1. Take Inventory of your Possessions

It’s always a good idea to know where your debts and assets stand, so start by making a list. This should have insurance documents and bank statements. Make sure to also include contact information and account numbers and keep this list somewhere safe and secure. Your will’s executor will need a summary of this information.

  1. Develop your Plan

Estate planning will let you control what happens to your assets and property after you pass on. This plan will also cover what should happen to you in case of incapacitation and allow your family to carry your affairs out without going through the court system. It involves a strategy for giving income if you get disabled and covering care expenses that might arise for you or loved ones.

  1. Protect your Business

An essential part of planning your estate is protecting your assets and ensuring they go to the right people, while minimizing expenses. If applicable, the plan should include strategies for disposing of or transferring your family-owned business. It should also cover what is to happen to investment or real estate property. Some people choose to use trusts or permanent life insurance for these means.

“A trust is a good way to help manage your assets if you have a more complicated estate, since it offers a greater degree of flexibility than a will would,” said Lewis Saret, federal taxation lawyer and Forbes contributor.

  1. Record your Wishes

Most of us would prefer to have our belongings and assets distributed according to our choosing when we die. Legal documentation, via an estate plan, ensures that these wishes are granted if you become incapacitated or pass on. This means you need to designate beneficiaries for retirement accounts, your life insurance policy, and any other assets you may have.

This is also a good time to ensure that material asset titles for property or vehicles are properly named. Working with an estate planning attorney is a great way to make sure you have a legally valid and updated will. It will also enable you to appoint powers of attorney for financial and health-related matters.

  1. Choose Fiduciaries

In order for your estate plan to be executed, you’ll have to choose people (fiduciaries) to carry it out if you’re not able to. This will include a trustee for the assets, an executor to carry out your will, a guardian for your minor children, and a power of attorney in case you are incapacitated.

You must ensure that the fiduciaries you appoint agree to what you’ve chosen and can access the original documents of your estate plan. Your fiduciaries may be personal friends, family members, or hired experts like corporate trustees, attorneys, or bankers.

  1. Keep your Will Updated

Your will should be reviewed at least once a year. Major life events such as receiving an inheritance, buying property, getting married, the death of a family member, or having a child all warrant an update to your plan. When you’re performing your yearly check, it’s a good time to check that beneficiary designations are up-to-date on insurance policies and financial documents.

  1. Keep your Heirs in the Loop

Inheritance isn’t always easy to talk about, but you must discuss your expectations and plans with your friends and family. The clearer you are with your intentions, the lower the risk of disagreements and complications when you pass on.

Whether you have extensive assets that you’ve accumulated over a lifetime or are just starting out financially, a current estate plan will help you manage, protect, and preserve your assets. An estate planning professional will help you make the best plan to cover your goals and give you the resources and tools you need along the way.

Call our Arizona Estate Planning team at (480)467-4325 to discuss your case today.

Contact The JacksonWhite Estate Team

Call (480) 467-4325 or fill out the form below to schedule a consultation and discuss your best legal options.

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