Estate Planning Checklist: What to Do Before You Die

Shawn Plummer

CEO, The Annuity Expert

No one likes to think about their mortality, but estate planning is essential to life planning. Developing a comprehensive plan ensures that your wishes are honored, and your legacy remains intact. However, crafting a complete plan can seem overwhelming, so having a checklist is essential to ensure the process runs smoothly. This guide will discuss why estate planning is vital and provide a detailed checklist of everything you should consider when creating a plan for yourself or someone else. By following these guidelines, you’ll be able to ensure that your family’s best interests are taken care of after you’re gone.

What is an Estate Planning Checklist?

An estate planning checklist is a document that helps ensure you have taken all necessary steps when organizing your estate. It outlines the essential steps in planning, such as drafting a will, creating trusts, executing a power of attorney paperwork, and setting up life insurance.

Additionally, a planning checklist can guide you in taking inventory of your assets, setting up a plan for financial and legal documents, assigning guardianship roles, and other critical administrative tasks.

What Is An Estate Planning Checklist?

Take An Inventory Of Your Assets

Your estate plan begins with a list of your tangible and intangible assets.

Non-liquid assets

  • Homes
    • Condominiums
    • Land,
    • Other real estate
  • Vehicles
    • Automobiles
    • Motorcycles
    • Boats
  • Collectibles
  • Proof of Business Ownership

Liquid assets

After you’ve created your inventory, you’ll need to estimate the value of each item using appraisals, financial account statements, and other data.

Designate A Power Of Attorney

A power of attorney (POA) is a legal document allowing someone to handle your financial affairs if you cannot do so. Your chosen POA may act on your behalf in legal and financial matters when you cannot do so. This involves accessing and managing your assets and paying your bills and taxes.

If you do not have a power of attorney, the court may rule on what happens to your estate if you cannot handle it.

Create a will or trust


You can set aside portions of your estate to a trustee while you’re living using a trust. However, most trusts are restricted to specific assets, such as real estate, rather than the entire inheritance. In addition, a trust is often established for minor beneficiaries who may only claim it when they reach a specified age.


A legal will is a formal document determining how your assets will be distributed after you pass away. It ensures that your money and property are given to beneficiaries as intended. Ensure your will wording is the same as other documents, such as insurance policies or retirement accounts, to avoid being challenged. Your estate will be left in the hands of state authorities if you don’t have a will.

You may work with a lawyer to create your will, or you can do it yourself, but you should get it notarized by two people to avoid legal battles over it. Any individual may be a witness to your will in any state; however, you should pick individuals that are not beneficiaries and have no interest in your decisions. A will must also be notarized in certain states.

Is an Estate Plan a Will?

No, an estate plan is not the same as a will. A will is just one component of estate preparation and typically deals with how your financial accounts and other assets should be distributed after you pass away. The plan can include many other elements, such as trusts, powers of attorney, health care directives, and life insurance policies. These components can help protect your family’s financial future and fulfill your wishes.

An estate plan is a comprehensive strategy for ensuring that all of your assets are taken care of after you die and should be tailored to fit the unique needs of each individual. Working with an experienced attorney can help you create a customized plan that meets your goals and objectives.

Is An Estate Plan A Will?

What Are The Most Important Items to Put in a Will?

When writing a will, it is essential to include specific details about who should receive your assets when you die. This includes any property, investments, and bank accounts that may be part of your estate. You can also name the beneficiaries of your life insurance policies and retirement accounts.

Besides appointing an executor for your estate, you should also detail any unique stipulations regarding the disbursement of your possessions. Don’t forget to include arrangements concerning funeral and burial services, guardianship details if necessary, and charitable contributions in your will. Above all else, make sure you sign it off and then have two individuals not related to or included in the will witness it according to law.

What Should I Avoid in a Will?

In addition to the considerations you should make when writing a will, there are some things you should avoid. First, it is essential to avoid ambiguity in your will. Wording can have legal implications, so use precise language to define each item or person mentioned. Additionally, do not include any conditions that different people could interpret differently.

Also, avoid including any language that could be seen as a challenge to local laws and regulations. This could cause problems if your will is challenged in court. In addition, do not make promises of goods or property you cannot keep in the event of your death; if someone challenges the will in court, this could be seen as an attempt to defraud someone.

Choose a caretaker for your children.

A guardianship clause may be included in a will or trust, but if yours does not contain one, you must choose someone to look after your kids if you pass away. Consider naming a guardian who shares your beliefs and has the resources to raise your children. A backup guardian should also be appointed.

Make careful notes on how you want your kids to be raised and cared for. A court may order that your children are given into the care of someone you disagree with if you fail to designate a guardian.

Revaluate your beneficiaries

If you don’t designate a beneficiary or the beneficiary is under 18 or deceased, a court will likely decide your estate’s fate. Unfortunately, people overlook who they’ve designated as beneficiaries on policies and accounts. Beneficiary designations on insurance and account documents sometimes precede what’s in a will. Make sure your money and valuables go to the right person.

Ensure your beneficiary section is correct and you list backup beneficiaries in case the primary one passes away before you. If anything happens to the people named, check your retirement and insurance accounts and modify them as necessary.

Create a Letter Of Intent

A letter of intent is a legal document that your executor or beneficiary should follow. For example, letters of intent might contain funeral arrangements, specific requests, or directions for a particular asset after you pass away. This document isn’t considered a genuine legal document, but it does assist the court in determining your intentions.

What is an Estate Planning Worksheet?

An estate planning worksheet is a document used by individuals to help organize and define their financial goals and objectives. It provides a framework for setting priorities, assessing assets, and analyzing liabilities to devise an effective plan for the future. The worksheet typically includes questions about current assets, debts, income, expenses, taxes, and other matters related to planning.

This document can be used as a guide for setting up wills, trusts, and other legal documents that establish who will receive assets after death. An estate worksheet is often the first step in creating a comprehensive financial plan that addresses all retirement and estate aspects.

What Is An Estate Planning Worksheet?

At What Age do Most People Start Estate Planning?

Generally, it is wise to start considering planning for your estate at any age; even those who have just acquired assets or possessions can benefit from creating a plan that reflects their wishes and provides for their loved ones in case of death or incapacity.

For those with children, proper planning is indispensable. As young parents, it is essential to craft a will and establish trusts and guardianships for minors; that way, you can guarantee your assets are dispersed in line with your wishes if something happens to you, or you become incapacitated.

Even if you don’t have kids, planning for your estate is still a crucial step to take. Formulating a will and other legal papers that detail your desires in the case of impairment or death should be done without delay.

At What Age Do Most People Start Estate Planning?

What Are Four Must-Have Documents When Estate Planning?

Four must-have documents when estate planning includes:

  • Last Will and Testament: This document allows an individual to stipulate how they want their assets, property, and finances to be distributed after death. It also allows them to choose the executor of their estate, who will manage the asset distribution process.
  • Advance Health Care Directive: This document gives individuals the power to specify their wishes for health care if they become incapacitated and cannot make decisions about their care. In such cases, it can also name a person to make decisions on the individual’s behalf.
  • Durable Power of Attorney: This document grants an individual the right to appoint someone, usually a trusted family member or friend, to manage the property, finances, and other assets on their behalf.
  • Trust: This document allows individuals to transfer ownership of their assets and property to a future distribution according to the individual’s wishes. It can also provide tax benefits and help avoid probate court proceedings. Establishing trust is especially important if an individual has minor children or dependents.

What Other Estate Planning Documents Will I Need?

Other documents needed when estate planning include:

  • Living Will: This document expresses an individual’s desires regarding end-of-life care, such as whether to be kept on life support if there is no hope for recovery. It also allows individuals to appoint someone to make decisions about their health care if they are incapacitated and cannot make them themselves.
  • Nomination of Guardian: This document allows an individual to nominate a guardian for any minor children or dependents in the event of their death. It also allows them to stipulate how their children should be cared for and managed financially.
  • Letter of Instruction: This document provides family, friends, and executors with information and instructions about the deceased’s items, their wishes for funeral arrangements, and their desired final resting place.

Helpful Tip: If you need an affordable service to set up an entire estate plan, we recommend:

What Documents Are Needed For Estate Planning? A Checklist For Preparing A Will.

Next Steps…

Estate planning is a process that often requires some time, effort, and legal expertise. However, the peace of mind gained when we have taken the necessary steps to ensure our assets are protected, and our families are provided for can be priceless. Regardless of how far along you may be in your planning journey, understanding your options and recognizing the steps needed to begin will help you make informed decisions about providing for your family and giving directions for your legacy. Contact us today for more information!

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Frequently Asked Questions

What are the five components of estate planning?

Asset inventory, beneficiary designations, will or trust, power of attorney, and healthcare directive.

What should be included in a will checklist?

Executor, beneficiaries, assets, debts, and distribution.

What makes a good estate plan?

Customized, comprehensive, flexible, up-to-date, and communicated.

What is an estate planning checklist?

List of tasks to complete for a comprehensive estate plan.

What are some examples of estate planning?

Will, trust, power of attorney, healthcare directive, gifting.

What are the four must-have documents?

Will, durable power of attorney, healthcare directive, and living will.

What are the two key documents used to prepare an estate plan?

Will and trust.

What should I avoid in a will?

Ambiguity, mistakes, and incomplete information.

What are the most important things to put in a will?

Executor, beneficiaries, assets, debts, and distribution.

What are the seven steps of preparing a will?

Gather information, choose an executor, list beneficiaries, designate asset distribution, name a guardian, draft and sign, and store safely.

What is an estate planning worksheet?

A form to gather and organize personal and financial information.

What documents do I need to put my affairs in order?

Will, power of attorney, healthcare directive, and trust (if applicable).

What assets should be considered when planning your estate?

Real estate, investments, retirement accounts, personal property, and life insurance.

What should be on a list of assets?

Bank accounts, investments, retirement accounts, real estate, and personal property.

What are some examples of assets that can be left to beneficiaries?

Cash, investments, real estate, and personal property.

At what age do most people do estate planning?

Age 55 or older.

What are the essential factors to consider in estate planning?

Family, assets, taxes, and health.

What are the three main priorities you want to ensure with your estate plan?

Control, protection, and distribution of assets.

*Disclosure: Some of the links in this guide may be affiliate links. I may receive a commission at no cost if you purchase a policy. It helps us keep the lights on!

Shawn Plummer

CEO, The Annuity Expert

I’m a licensed financial professional focusing on annuities and insurance for more than a decade. My former role was training financial advisors, including for a Fortune Global 500 insurance company. I’ve been featured in Time Magazine, Yahoo! Finance, MSN, SmartAsset, Entrepreneur, Bloomberg, The Simple Dollar, U.S. News and World Report, and Women’s Health Magazine.

The Annuity Expert is an online insurance agency servicing consumers across the United States. My goal is to help you take the guesswork out of retirement planning or find the best insurance coverage at the cheapest rates for you. 

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