List the value of your home and other real estate, cars, jewelry, artwork and other physical assets. Gather recent statements from each of your bank, investment and brokerage accounts. Make a list of all insurance policies, their cash value and death benefit. Finally, list all liabilities, including mortgages, lines of credit and other debt. To simplify this task, use our net worth worksheet (PDF).
How do you want your assets distributed? List the people and the percentages you want them to get. Who will you name as beneficiaries if these heirs aren't living at the time of your death? If you have minor children, who do you want to care for them? What assets do you want to put aside to provide for your children's ongoing care and education? Who do you want to manage your affairs if you become disabled or to distribute your assets upon your death? Who will make health care decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated? Also think about your wishes concerning life-sustaining medical treatment if you are terminally ill. Answering these questions before you meet with an estate planner can save you both time and money.
If you discover any inaccuracies, make necessary changes now. This will assure your assets won't be left to the wrong person.
Estate settlement laws vary from state to state, so it's wise to have an experienced estate-planning attorney prepare your plan. A qualified attorney will review your objectives and explain how best to use wills, trusts, powers of attorney, etc., to your advantage. Your attorney can also bring up issues you may have missed and help you draft the necessary documents, including:
Be sure to revisit your estate plan every three to five years, or whenever you make a major life change. Marriage, divorce, the birth of a child or grandchild, the loss of a spouse or other beneficiary, loss of a parent or someone who has depended on you financially, or moving to another state may require you to make changes to reflect your current status and desires.