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The Ultimate Estate Planning Checklist

A comprehensive estate plan also ensures that your wishes will be honoured, even after you’re gone.

Planning with estate agent

Planning your estate is one of the most important things you can do in order to provide for your loved ones after you’re gone. When your loved ones are in the midst of grieving, the last thing you surely want is for them to have to scramble to find important documents, rack up thousands of dollars in lawyer’s and accountant’s fees, and deal with potential conflicts and stress because there’s uncertainty about who receives what assets.

A comprehensive estate plan also ensures that your wishes will be honoured, even after you’re gone. Want to donate some of your assets to a specific charity, give your collection of vintage world maps to your niece, or have a specific poem be read at your funeral? A clear will—which is the bedrock of any estate plan—will ensure that your wishes are met.

That’s why estate planning is truly an act of grace and love toward yourself and your loved ones, who will need all the help they can get when they’re grieving. However, estate planning can often feel like a scary and overwhelming endeavour. That’s why we’ve created a comprehensive checklist that breaks down the process and ensures you’re covering all your bases. Here’s what you need to know:

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Create (and update) your will

  • List all of your property, including real estate, non-joint bank accounts, businesses, and other assets.
  • Name a guardian for any children who are minors, or an adult child with a disability who relies on you for support.
  • Include instructions for your funeral service and how you’d like to be laid to rest.
  • Finally, your will is also where you can name your estate executor.
  • Consistently update your will, ideally after any major life events.

Curious about what happens if you don’t have a will? Find out here.

Make an inventory of your assets

  • Start with big-ticket items like real estate, automobiles, art, electronics, and jewelry.
  • Include items with potential sentimental value, such as family heirlooms or gifts you would like to pass on to certain family members or friends.
  • Make a list of all of your financial accounts, including investment accounts, chequing accounts, digital banking accounts, and savings accounts.
  • Include retirement accounts such as IRAs, TFSAs, and RRSPs.

Record your debt

  • Create a list of debts you’re still paying, including any loans and mortgages.
  • Pay off high-interest debt, like credit card debt.

Name beneficiaries for your retirement accounts

  • RRSPs or RRIFs: The beneficiary must be your spouse or common-law partner, a dependent child or grandchild under the age of 18, or a physically or mentally infirmed dependent of any age.
  • TFSAs: You can name a spouse or partner as the account’s beneficiary, or you can name them a successor holder. The successor holder assumes ownership of the TFSA account and gets the same tax benefits you get. Beneficiaries don't get the same benefits, and the funds they receive are subject to taxes.
  • 401(k)s: You can name a primary beneficiary for your 401(k), as well as a contingent beneficiary to whom the assets in the account will pass if the primary beneficiary has already died. Once the assets have become the property of the primary beneficiary, the backup beneficiary loses all claims.
  • IRAs: Both Traditional and Roth IRAs can have named beneficiaries, who can then either take over the account or roll the account over into their own IRA.

Choose an estate executor

  • Inform your potential estate executor of your decision and have a lengthy conversation with them about what their responsibilities will be.
  • Share relevant information with them, such as where you’ve stored important paperwork, giving them access to relevant accounts, and sharing your wishes regarding burial plans, inheritance plans, and more.

Consider funeral pre-arrangements

  • Choosing a funeral home while you’re alive and healthy can save your loved ones a great amount of stress and time, not to mention money.
  • Pay for service in advance.
  • By making arrangements now, you lock in today’s prices and don’t have to worry about inflation or any future price changes that may occur.

Simplify your finances

  • Set up a living inheritance: This decision allows you to begin transferring the assets of your estate, such as money, property, investments, vehicles, and much more, during your lifetime.
  • Create joint accounts: Chequing and savings accounts offer the option for joint ownership, which means that once you pass, the entire account and its holdings will automatically be transferred to the remaining owner.

Store important paperwork somewhere safe

  • File notarized copies of your will with your lawyer, if you have one.
  • Store originals as well as copies in a safe place in your home, such as a filing cabinet with a dedicated space for important documents.
  • Have digital copies and email them to your attorney and executor, or store on a thumb drive in your safe at home.
  • Make sure you have multiple copies of everything, and that all relevant parties, including your estate executor and your loved ones, know where to find everything.

Keep updating your plan as needed

Your life is rarely static, so your estate plan shouldn’t be either. Things change: You might buy a house, or move to a Greek island, adopt a special-needs parrot, or become a grandparent. All of these things will play a part in how you want your assets to be distributed once you’re gone, so make sure to keep your estate plan up-to-date by taking stock every couple of years and checking in with your estate executor.

If you need the help of an experienced estate executor, don't hesitate to contact ClearEstate. From helping with the will to filing relevant tax returns, we will lay out the whole process for you to rest easy, knowing precisely that your beneficiaries will receive your assets quickly.

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