Estate Planning Checklist: 
The First Step in Estate Planning 

Written by Val Hemminger, Lawyer and Mediator

The estate planning checklist is what we can use when we want to start thinking about what we need to do in order to organize our affairs.

For some, we may not know where to begin. That is where one like the one below can come in handy. In British Columbia estate planning and distribution is governed by the Wills, Estate, and Succession Act.

There are 3 main reasons we do estate planning:

  1. We want to ensure that our family or other loved ones are looked after;
  2.  We want our estate (that being our stuff and assets and money) to be distributed according to our wishes in as hassle free a manner as possible; and
  3. We want to minimize taxes payable when we die.

Where to begin?
Here is a sample estate planning checklist:

Choose an executor for your will

Ask or advise the executor that you are naming them as an executor

Choose beneficiaries for your will

If you have minor children, choose a guardian for your children

Figure out how the guardian will access funds that will financially support your children

Get your will completed

Make a list of how you want your personal effects distributed and provide it to your executor

Tell your executor and trustee where they can find the original of your will

Organize life and disability insurance

Name beneficiaries in your life and disability insurance policies

Look at all your stocks and other investments and name beneficiaries

Plan your funeral? (My Mom did this)

Prepay your funeral (My Mom did this too)

Give away certain gifts during your lifetime?

Transfer property to joint ownership?

Prepare an enduring power of attorney

Prepare a living will or representation agreement

Prepare a trust?

Your lawyer can and will help you determine what parts of this estate planning checklist you will need and what you should be doing based upon the particular needs of you and your family. 

Choose an executor for your will: 

This can be a very big decision.  Your executor is the person who will be in charge of organizing your affairs and distributing your estate after you die. 

Ask or advise the executor that you are naming them as an executor: 

When you give someone this job it is a significant responsibility. It can also be an honor. Most of the time you probably want to choose an executor that is local to where you live. It makes things way easier. 

Choose beneficiaries for your will: 

This is who you want to benefit from your estate. This is who will get the money. You may want to consider the Wills Variation Act when choosing your beneficiary. For example, it may not be advisable to leave a family member out of your will even if you want to. 

If you have minor children, choose a guardian for your children: 

This is also a huge decision. You will also want to ask the potential guardians if they are agreeable. Being a guardian is a huge honor and it is a massive responsibility should taking on that role be necessary (ie. You die and leave your kids for them to care for). 

Figure out how the guardian will access funds that will financially support your children: 

If you die and you leave your children to someone else to raise, you probably want to make sure they have the funds from your estate available to care for and educate your kids. 

Get your will completed: 

Get your will done and done properly with the help of a lawyer. Although there are lots of will kids on the internet, this is probably the most important part of your estate planning checklist that you will attend to. This is probably the most important element of the estate planning checklist for you.

Make a list of how you want your personal effects distributed and provide it to your executor: 

Who do you want that special painting or your engagement ring to go to? Make a list to keep it easy and less stressful for your young ones. Another important aspect of your estate planning checklist that people often may not think about.

Tell your executor and trustee where they can find the original of your will: 

Believe it or not, they will not necessarily know where to look in order to find your will. They also need to know that the will they locate is the last one you wrote (in case you have an old will lying around somewhere). 

Organize life and disability insurance 

If you have people relying on you financially (or people that rely on your income, that is) you may want to ensure that your income is replaced in the event you are no longer able to produce it. 

Name beneficiaries in your life and disability insurance policies 

Well this one is kind of obvious. 

Look at all your stocks and other investments and name beneficiaries 

This one is obvious too. 

Plan your funeral? (My Mom did this) 

And wow did this ever help in terms of the process. It saved us a lot of grief. Literally. 

Prepay your funeral (My Mom did this too) 

When it was time for her funeral it was all planned and paid for. All we had left to do was celebrate her life and memory and reminisce about how much we loved her and would miss her. 

Give away certain gifts during your lifetime? 

Sometimes you want to pass on certain gifts during your lifetime so that you can see the joy your loved one will experience when you give them that gift. This can be when you give someone an item that has had special meaning to you.  

Transfer property to joint ownership? 

When you transfer property to joint ownership it can pass automatically upon your death to your loved one. You can also avoid probate fees and tax.  Not everyone does this but it is an important think to consider when reviewing your estate planning checklist.

Prepare an enduring power of attorney 

This will allow someone you trust to sign legal documents on your behalf when you are unable to do so due to illness, unavailability, or disability. 

Prepare a living will or representation agreement:

A living will allows you to designate someone who will make health care and personal care decisions for you when you are not able to do so. 

A living will can also allow you to make health care decisions for yourself while you are still able to do so. 

Prepare a trust? 

A trust agreement is a document that spells out the rules that you want followed for property held in trust for your beneficiaries. It is when one property is held for the benefit of another.

If you have a legal matter on this or any other topic that you would like to discuss with a lawyer, please contact us for a consultation.

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