Best Practices

Estate Planning Checklist: Your Full Guide

by Jim Hughes   January 14, 2020

Estate planning can ensure that an individual’s assets are protected in the event of an unfortunate circumstance, namely death or disability. Here’s a guide on how to begin an estate plan, as well as best practices to keep in mind and common mistakes to avoid.

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Learn how to plan for your estate.

What is Estate Planning?

Estate planning is the process of determining how an individual’s property, possessions, and general assets are distributed or transferred at the time of death.

Planning ahead in this way can be beneficial for protecting remaining family members from financial burden and can also help minimize state taxes, after the fact.

Despite the importance of having a post-mortem financial plan, a recent survey found that only four in 10 American adults have estate planning documents and that 64% of Americans have not made a will.

What Documents are Needed for Estate Planning?

There are a few documents commonly associated with the estate planning process that can help simplify the beginning stages. These can include:


A last will and testament is a legal document in which individuals lay out how they would like their assets distributed. This document will also name a representative who will be responsible for allocating these said assets to the appropriate beneficiaries named.

Living Will

Slightly different from the aforementioned document, a living will dictate a healthcare proxy that will make medical care decisions in the event of an illness. 

Financial Power of Attorney

 A power of attorney allows an individual to name someone to be in charge of financial decisions relating to an estate in the event that the individual is unable to do so themselves.

Living Trust

Through this document, individuals can opt to place their assets within a trust while they are alive. Assets are then distributed after the time of death.

Records of Debts

Before any assets are distributed, the estate may need to pay back money owed to lenders in the form of payday loans, cash advances, and bigger loans.

How to Make Estate Planning Easier

While planning ahead will look different from individual to individual, there are a number of steps that can make the process easier.

Make a List of Assets

To begin your estate plan, it is important to determine all monetary and personal assets to cover. Assets can include anything from one’s property and real estate, to the furniture owned.

Some other assets to consider are:

●       Personal property such as books or art

●       Vehicles you own

●       Businesses you own or have shares in

●       Intellectual property such as patents and social media accounts

●       Life insurance policies

●       Financial accounts such as savings accounts or 401(k) plans and retirement accounts

Plan Your Asset Ownership and Beneficiaries

For assets that have a title associated with them, such as real estate or vehicle properties, consumers can determine co-owners to which ownership will automatically be transferred over to. In such cases, title documents must indicate that the asset in question is co-owned.

Individuals can also opt to designate a beneficiary that will only have post-mortem ownership rights. This can be highlighted through a will and can make the most sense for assets relating to banks and financial accounts.

Heirs or beneficiaries can include spouses, children, friends, or loved ones. Experts advise that consumers determine their beneficiaries carefully to avoid problems down the line. Beneficiaries can be reconsidered and changed as necessary.

It should also be noted that in cases in which beneficiaries are not named, a spouse can be automatically named. If there is no spouse to be named, payments of the accounts or possessions in question are made to one’s estate.

Cover Debts with Insurance

Opting for homeowners, auto, life, and disability insurance can make certain that loved ones are protected and provided for.

Experts suggest getting life insurance if one has family members who depend on them monetarily and who may fall on financial hardships. Once life insurance is bought, the individuals named as beneficiaries will receive death benefits.

If insurance isn’t an option, a small installment loan may be a suitable choice. However, it is important to pay back this type of funding as fast as possible.

Put Your Plan into Action

Once a plan is drafted, consumers can meet with an estate planning attorney to help finalize decisions and to ensure that the appropriate measures are in place.

Common Estate Planning Mistakes

Planning ahead can help to ease financial related fears regarding the unknown. Here are some common mistakes to avoid when it comes to estate planning:

Not Having a Backup Plan

Individuals should list more than one beneficiary in the event that the primary one is unable to fulfill their duties. Failure to have a beneficiary may result in the state or government stepping in to name a successor.

Not Updating Beneficiaries

Not only is it important for individuals to update their successors on all appropriate documents, but those named on wills and trusts can also be changed as needed, depending on the circumstances. To this end, individuals should also update their successors after major life events such as remarriages, divorce, or death of beneficiaries themselves. This can ensure that assets are distributed in the manner intended by owners.

Using a Bank without Reading the Fine Print

To avoid typical bank fees, it is important to read through any agreement, where banks are required by law to list all the relevant charges.

Not Planning for Disability

It is a common mistake for individuals to only prepare for the event of death, yet unfortunately, there can be unforeseen medical circumstances that should also be considered. All should make sure to name a beneficiary in the event of a healthcare situation in which decisions may need to be made on one’s behalf.

Failing to Keep up with Changing Estate Laws

While about 99.8% of estates do not actually owe taxes, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation, consumers should be aware of any changing general estate laws that may affect them or their property.

Not Meeting with a Specialist

Financial tax experts may be able to help those who are struggling to make an estate plan that makes sense for them. Advisors can help find holes in plans and provide effective strategies for tackling this often daunting process.

Estate Tax Laws What is an Estate Tax?

An estate tax is a fee on property with values exceeding a limit set by state law.

Careful planning can help to minimize estate and inheritance taxes. Large estates and properties are usually subject to taxes. While up to $11.4 million of individual estates were exempt from federal taxes in the year 2019, some states have additional inheritance taxes that require beneficiaries to pay taxes on the assets that become theirs.

Jim Hughes   OpenCashAdvance Marketing Manager
Personal Finance
Jim Hughes remembers checking his first email on the original BlackBerry 850 nearly 20 years ago. It was spam, and he fell for it. Even so, he’s been on the beat every day since, following the ebbs and flows of financial technology. Look to Jim for insider exclusives on shorter-duration loans, installment loans, and other popular products in fintech today.
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