Estate planning checklist
A complete estate plan not only takes into account your belongings and property but also your relatives and loved ones. By planning ahead, you can minimize future stress on those closest and help ensure your wishes are carried out. An estate planning checklist will remind you of the decisions you’ll need to make when implementing an estate plan and keep track of the important documents that will form part of it.
Related: What Exactly is an Estate?
Estate Planning Checklist – Get your affairs in order
A comprehensive estate plan should consider what happens in the event of both death and disability. It should also make it easy for your surviving family members to carry out any post-death wishes. This checklist will outline what you should consider when establishing an estate plan.
1. Prepare a list of your belongings
A good starting point for any estate plan is to list all of your belongings and assets. With such a list to hand, it will be easier to decide how you want to distribute your belongings and to whom. Your list should include items such as
- Any real property you own
- Household furniture of value
- Clothing, jewellery, family heirlooms
- Bank accounts
- Brokerage accounts
- Retirement accounts, life insurance, stocks, annuities
Related reading: The complete Estate Planning process
2. Make a Last Will and Testament
Having a Last Will and Testament is a sensible first step when you set out on estate planning. The will is a document in which you can lay out who will receive your assets following your death. It can also include a nomination of a guardian for any minor children, and you can even designate a person who will take care of your pets.
If you don’t have a Will at the time of death, or if the one that you had can’t be located or is deemed invalid, your belongings, including any property, will be distributed under the rules of intestacy, meaning that the assets may not go to the people that you had intended to benefit from them. The rules of the testacy are draconian and actually hinder rather than help most circumstances, but the Government doesn’t really care about that, and they are followed rigidly.
3. Useful documents and their location
The amount of documentation you will need will vary depending on the size and complexity of your estate. You should also have knowledge of where these documents are located and inform anyone who is involved in the administration of your estate where they will be able to locate them when the time comes. Some of these documents might be
- Your Will
- Insurance policies, especially for life and disability insurance
- Statements for any financial accounts, like savings, retirement, or investments
- Documents proving ownership of assets, such as mortgages, deeds, and titles
- Balance statements for any outstanding debts
- Medical records
4. Power of attorney
A power of attorney is a document that appoints someone you trust implicitly to handle your financial or medical affairs while you are alive, but also if you were to become incapable. This is to avoid situations in which local authorities are given the right to access and manage your bank account and make decisions about your healthcare and even your business, should you be deemed incapacitated or not fit to do so yourself. If you are considered to have lost mental capacity, financial institutions, such as your bank, can freeze all your bank accounts, even if they’re joint accounts, and prevent any access to funds.
While a Will is an essential legal document that ensures your wishes relating to your estate are distributed in the way you want them to be after you die, a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) is a crucial document for when you are still alive.
It’s important to note that in order to set up an LPA (Lasting Powers of Attorney), one must be mentally fit. Capacity, whether physical or mental, can be lost every day through accidents or serious health conditions; age can also be a factor, especially since more people are now experiencing dementia symptoms during their forties.
5. Prepare for estate tax obligations
You should stay up to date with the UK’s Inheritance Tax Rules & Thresholds and be aware of the taxes your loved ones may have to pay in order to access the family home or other assets you worked for your entire life so that you could all benefit.
Inheritance Tax is charged on the value of your estate at a rate of 40% over the £325,000 threshold as of today (2022). However, since this tax is due after you pass away, your children will have to face it. Planning around your inheritance tax position in advance will help you legally minimize this liability. The typical route to tax mitigation, which is used by families with larger estates, is the creation of a family Trust, or for those who are tax savvy and financially astute, the transfer of assets to QNUPS.
Related: Transferring assets in QNUPS
Moreover, the use of a trust and/or a QNUPS can also eliminate the need for probate of your estate after death. This means the assets can be passed on to your designated beneficiaries in weeks or months, as opposed to taking years if you die intestate.
For more information, download our free Guide to Wills and Probate!
6. Get your digital assets in order
It is now estimated that approximately 30 million Facebook accounts belong to deceased people. But it is not only your social media apps that you can put under the “digital assets” umbrella. Your PayPal account, any other money storage or transfer application, your digital currencies wallets, and so on can be lost forever with your demise. In fact, the average person under 70 years old has more than 160 digital accounts.
We recommend you make a separate list containing your passwords and store it in a secure place where it can be retrieved after death. Consider passing a sealed copy to your estate administrator or to a loved one so that accounts can be accessed quickly rather than having to wait months and go through a formal process of obtaining further details from each institution you hold assets with to gain such access.
7. Discuss the estate plan with your family
When you have checked your estate planning documents and tasks, it is important to inform your beneficiaries of their existence, as well as the people you have designated as the executors of your estate plan – be it a professional company, trustee, or family member/s.
You should inform relevant people about your will’s whereabouts and any steps you made to protect the estate from inheritance or death taxes. Moreover, you should have all the necessary personal information in one place, such as
- Any Insurance policies
- Credit cards and banks you are with
- Vehicle loans, mortgages, or any debt
- Contact information of relatives and close friends to be notified of your death
- A list and location of any assets previously unaccounted for (safe deposit boxes, storage units, etc.)
8. Revisit your documents periodically
Estate planning is not a one-time task. Your wishes may change, and so may the laws surrounding estate planning; therefore, it is crucial that you revise all of your work at least once a year. Especially, you should look for changes in your beneficiary’s circumstances, such as
If these situations occur, you may want to add or remove beneficiaries from your Will or amend it and other estate documents entirely.
While you may think that you’ve covered all bases, it may be a good idea to consult with a professional and consider a full estate planning service, and the team at Soteria Trusts will be happy to assist. They have helped many Hong Kong families who own UK assets and many expat UK families to get their affairs in order, minimize their UK taxes (not only IHT), and ensure that their hard-earned legacy will be passed on in a tax-efficient manner, rather than to the taxman himself, as those who don’t plan to appear to prefer!
ESTATE PLANNING CHECKLIST