Estate Planning Checklist: 10 Legal Documents For Your Estate Plan (2023)
Creating an estate plan can feel overwhelming. Where do you even start? What documents do you actually need?
At Stivers Law, we’ve helped hundreds of Florida residents create comprehensive estate plans. Over the years, we’ve developed an estate planning checklist to ensure every client’s plan is fully prepared.
An estate plan allows you to protect your loved ones by legally documenting your wishes.
Without clear instructions, the state steps in after you pass away — meaning a judge in a courtroom decides what happens next — if you choose to not make the decision yourself.
As you can imagine, things might not happen as you would have wanted. The judge must follow Florida’s intestate succession rules, which dictate who will get what and in what order, depending on if you are married and who is your next of kin (as defined by Florida State law).
That’s why an estate plan is so essential — it allows you to maintain control, even after death.
This basic estate planning guide will explain the core legal documents to include in your Florida estate plan. That being said, it’s critical to speak with a local Miami estate planning attorney for your own specific needs.
Last Will and Testament Outlines Distribution of Assets
A last will is the cornerstone of any estate plan. This legal document designates who inherits your property after you pass away. It also names a trusted executor to carry out your wishes.
Without a will, Florida intestacy law determines who receives your assets. This cookie-cutter distribution may not match your intentions at all.
Your last will should cover all property, such as financial accounts, real estate, vehicles, and physical possessions. Don’t forget about digital assets, either. Provide login credentials so your executor can access valuable online accounts.
Take your time choosing an executor. This person will hold a lot of responsibility for settling your estate. Select a responsible, organized individual who can manage the probate process (which you can sidestep completely with a trust).
Living Trusts Avoid the Public Probate Process
In Florida, wills must go through probate – a long, public legal process. To bypass probate, many residents utilize living trusts.
A living trust is a legal entity that holds title to your assets while you’re living. You name yourself trustee and beneficiary. If incapacitated or after death, your successor trustee steps in to distribute assets privately per your instructions.
Living trusts are more difficult to contest than wills. Your successors can also assume control of assets much faster, avoiding probate delays.
Setting up a living trust takes more initial effort but streamlines the settlement process tremendously. Our firm helps clients transfer ownership of their real estate, accounts, and more into the trust.
Appoint Someone You Trust with Durable Powers of Attorney
Life throws unexpected events our way. If injured or incapacitated, you need someone ready to handle financial or medical decisions on your behalf. These two legal documents allow you to appoint trusted advocates.
A durable financial power of attorney authorizes your agent to manage financial and legal affairs if you become incapacitated. They can access accounts, pay bills, file taxes, and more. Limit their powers and select someone extremely trustworthy.
For medical choices, a healthcare power of attorney (or healthcare proxy) is required. This appoints someone to make healthcare decisions if you’re unable to communicate. Be sure to discuss your preferences in detail with your agent.
Powers of attorney provide immense peace of mind that your affairs remain in good hands if the unexpected occurs.
Living Will Specifies Medical Wishes if Terminally Ill
No one likes contemplating their own mortality. But imagining yourself terminally ill can clarify what medical treatments you would and would not want. Documenting these wishes in a living will provide clear guidance to healthcare providers.
A living will specifies whether you want interventions like CPR, ventilators, feeding tubes, and more if terminally ill or irreversibly incapacitated. You can also indicate your preferences regarding pain medication.
Sharing your desires ahead of time spares your loved ones the heartache of making these difficult decisions for you. A Living Will speaks when you no longer can.
Preplan and Prefund Your Final Arrangements
The average funeral costs around $9,000 in Florida. With funeral prices rising, more families are struggling to cover costs. Prefunding arrangements ensure your specific wishes are honored without burdening others.
In your estate plan, an advance funeral directive outlines your preferences for burial or cremation, services, obituary, and more. You can prepay some or all funeral expenses through insurance policies or savings.
Preplanning also lifts the burden of decisions from grieving loved ones. Give your family the gift of implementation, not deliberation.
Leave Guidance with a Letter of Instruction
Estate plans handle asset distribution from a legal perspective. But what about all the day-to-day details of managing your affairs? That’s where a letter of instruction proves useful.
This informal letter provides guidance to your loved ones in settling your estate. Include:
- Login info and locations of important documents
- Contact info for financial accounts, advisors, and liabilities
- Final wishes for burial, digital accounts, pets, etc.
- Sentimental distribution of personal possessions
- Guidance for managing a business, if applicable
Keep your letter of instruction in a convenient but secure spot for executor access. Update it at least annually as accounts and preferences change.
Name Beneficiaries to Avoid Probate
Certain assets allow you to directly name beneficiaries, avoiding the probate process. Take advantage by designating beneficiaries for:
- Retirement accounts like 401(k)s and IRAs
- Life insurance policies
- Annuities or brokerage accounts with transfer-on-death options
- Bank accounts with payable-on-death options
Review your beneficiary choices regularly, especially after major life events like marriage or divorce. Update as needed to guarantee assets transfer correctly.
Consolidate Your Plan into an Estate Planning Organizer
Once your estate plan is complete, the organizing begins! Consolidate photocopies of all your documents, accounts, passwords, etc., into one master estate planning organizer.
Keep your organizer in a secure location known to your executor and successors. Let your loved ones know they can find your important information there when needed.
Update the contents annually as accounts change. Quick access to accurate records helps your successors settle your estate smoothly.
In Summary…Your Estate Planning Checklist
Though it may seem daunting at first, an estate plan is simply about getting your affairs in order through legal documentation. This provides immense peace of mind that your loved ones will be cared for.
To recap, the 10 core estate planning documents include:
- Last will and testament
- Living trust
- Durable financial power of attorney
- Healthcare power of attorney
- Living Will
- Advance funeral directive
- Letter of instruction
- Beneficiary forms
- Estate planning organizer
- Any other items unique to your situation
The team at Stivers Law has helped hundreds of Florida families thoughtfully craft estate plans to protect what matters most. Contact us today for a complimentary consultation. Let’s get started planning your legacy together.