Will planning checklist

Creating a will is an essential part of estate planning. A will legally defines how you want your assets to be distributed to your family, friends or charitable organizations after you pass away. No matter how much or how little you may have to pass on to your loved ones, this legal document makes it easier for your loved ones to access your property and assets after you’re gone.

Use this step-by-step guide to start planning your will:

  • Inventory your assets, including investments (stocks, real estate, business interests), retirement savings, life insurance, heirlooms and other valuables.

  • Document your debt (including the balance and monthly payments for your mortgage, tuition and other loans) that may need to be paid by your estate.

  • Talk with children, other family members and friends to find out which assets are most important to them.

  • Decide where you want each of your assets to go after you pass away. Remember that charities can also be a beneficiary for certain assets in your will.

  • Choose a legal guardian for your minor children (make sure the person is willing to take on the task) and name that person as the beneficiary for assets you want to leave to your children. This is important because no one under the age of 18 can legally inherit any asset directly. Another option is to set up a trust that will hold specific assets for your child.

  • Choose an executor(s) for your will as well as an alternate executor. Talk with these people to make sure they understand the duties of the executor and are willing to accept this responsibility.

  • Gather your information and schedule a meeting with a reliable estate advisor or attorney to finalize the details of your plans and ensure your documents are properly set up according to your wishes. This can make it easier for your beneficiaries to manage your estate after you pass away.

  • Choose a secure place to store your will and other legal documents. Be sure to tell your executor and other appropriate family members and loved ones where they can find the documents if needed.

  • Set up reminders for yourself to review beneficiary information on all your important legal documents every year. Make sure your beneficiary’s contact information is up-to-date in your will, life insurance files, investment accounts and other legal documents. Reviewing this information is especially important after a birth, death, marriage, divorce or other major life changes.

  • Consider if you will need additional common elements of estate planning, including:

    • power of attorney, your legal representative for your financial affairs as well as your health care in case you become unable to manage these aspects of your life for yourself

    • living will, which describes what you want medical providers to do if you're placed on life support

    • trust, a legal structure that can be used to address specific assets

This article is provided by New York Life Insurance Company for informational purposes only. This article is not intended to provide tax, legal, financial or accounting advice. Please consult your own professional for advice specific to your circumstances.