Get your affairs in order: Here’s an estate plan checklist

An estate plan isn’t for only the wealthy. Estate plans are for anyone who has family, medical wishes and assets they would like to see managed.

Having your affairs in order before disaster strikes is no less than an act of kindness. Here is a checklist of what you need.


With a will, you ensure the right people inherit what you want them to have. You can give guardianship to people you trust to take care of your children and pets.

Living trust

Living trusts differ from wills in that the trust is executable privately and immediately. You can have a trust set up for after death, to go into effect immediately or when you’re incapacitated.

Healthcare directive

An AHCD (Advance Healthcare Directive) gives an agent the power to make healthcare decisions on your behalf when you cannot.

Life-sustaining treatment

While end-of-life wishes can be a part of the AHCD, a Physician’s Order for Life-Sustaining Treatment describes approved care. Doctors often suggest one to individuals with terminal illnesses.

Deeds and titles

Keep documents for your properties and vehicles in one place too. Again, keep in mind the info here will override your will.


Your insurance documents should be together, preferably with all estate planning documents. Keep a separate list for all policies, giving an executor a starting point for contacts.

Proof of relationships and identity

Keep identity documents in one place. The collection should include birth, marriage, and divorce papers, social security info, prenup agreements and military discharge papers.


A list of accounts and instructions for accessing them will make management painless. List bank accounts, credit cards, mortgages, loans, tax returns, pensions, retirement plans and investments.

Beneficiary payable-on-death conditions

A payable-on-death form ensures beneficiaries receive bank accounts, investment accounts and insurance plans. Like living trusts, these documents do not require probate. Have a separate document for each asset. (Note: these instruments override your will instructions. Coordinate all your estate planning to avoid conflict.)

Funeral instructions

As morose as it sounds, it’s a good idea to let loved ones know your final wishes. It saves a lot of stress and grief. They know how to manage the burial, what songs to sing, passages to read and what charities you prefer.

We recommend a safe or safety deposit box for estate plan documentation. Make sure everything’s coordinated as any contradiction can end up in court. Review your plan every three to five years or when there’s a life event, such as remarriage, grandchildren, relocation, etc.


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