How To Build An Initial Plan For Your Estate

Like many tasks, estate planning is most challenging before you get started. If you're thinking about building a plan for your estate, it's critical to focus on the initial conditions. An estate planning attorney will help you to address these four issues before you start creating documents.

Itemizing Assets and Liabilities

You have stuff you own, and then there's the stuff you owe. These items form the baseline for your estate. If you have significant liabilities outstanding, then creditors need to be part of your initial calculations. They will have claims against the estate until they're fairly paid, so plan to reconcile with them if you want to see anything make it to your legacy's beneficiaries. It's wise to set aside money or even some assets so there will be a way to settle with creditors.

Now, you need to figure out the what part of the equation before you move on to the who. Take inventory of anything that may remotely be of value or interest to your beneficiaries. Find account numbers, registration papers, titles, and other identifiers.

Consider Transfer Paths

If you've never explored estate planning before, you might be surprised to learn there's more to the process than writing a will. You can use trusts and payable-on-death benefits to transfer many assets and accounts without going through a will. Likewise, a will can even create a trust upon someone's passing.

Using these alternative transfer paths is valuable. If you're worried about providing for a relative who has medical problems, for example, you don't want to risk the estate taking months to execute. Worse, it could end up in probate.


Someone must execute your estate. If you don't name an executor, the court will appoint an administrator. The executor shouldn't be your estate planning attorney. Instead, it should be someone you can trust to do the job well. They also shouldn't have conflicts of interest. Ideally, they shouldn't be a beneficiary.

Also, name a successor. This is a person who becomes executor if the original is unavailable or incapacitated.

Name and Locate Beneficiaries

Your estate planning attorney should have the names of everyone who will benefit from your assets. They also will need to provide contact information so the executor can do their job. Contact all potential beneficiaries to get their names, phone numbers, and email addresses. Also, try to obtain contacts of people close to them who can provide updates if the attorney can't find them later.