More than a last will & testament

Ohio best practices for Estate planning is more than drafting a will. Planning your estate involves accounting for your assets and making sure they are transferred to the right people or entities. You must also ensure that others are aware of your plan and understand it.

Are you unsure where to start? This checklist will help you cover most of the bases.


Estate planning is more than just writing a will. Your plan will be executed smoothly after your death by accounting for all your assets and wishes. Writing lists and informing your estate administrator about the locations of those lists will ensure that no assets or wishes are overlooked. You can prevent these assets from being passed under the will by designating beneficiaries for retirement accounts and completing a transfer on death designations for other accounts.

Itemize Your Inventory

Start by going through your home and making a list. You can include your home, TV sets, jewelry, collectibles, and vehicles. Art and antiques are also included. You might find the list to be much longer than you expected. You may add notes as you go if you think someone might be interested in the item after you die.

Follow with non-physical assets

Next, add your non-tangible assets. These include things that you have on paper and other entitlements that depend on your death. These items include brokerage accounts and 401(k) plans, IRAs bank accounts, life insurance policies, and other policies like long-term care, auto, disability, and health insurance. List all account numbers and the locations of any physical documents that you may have. It is also a good idea to include contact information for those who have these non-physical items.

Make a list of all your debts.

Make a separate list of open credit cards and any other obligations. You should list items like auto loans, mortgages, and home equity credit (HELOCs). Add account numbers, whereabouts of signed agreements, and contact information for the companies that hold the debt. Look at all your credit cards, note which ones are used frequently, and go untouched. A free credit report is a good idea at least once per year. It will identify any credit cards that you might have forgotten about.

Create a Memberships list

Make a list of all organizations you belong to, such as AARP, The American Legion, or a veteran’s group. These organizations may offer accidental life insurance benefits to their members at no cost, which your beneficiaries might be eligible for.

You can also include any other charities that you support. It is also a great idea to inform your beneficiaries about charities or causes that are dear to you and where you would like donations to go in the future.

Keep duplicates of your lists.

Once your lists have been completed, date them, sign them and make at most three copies. Your estate administrator should receive the original (more about that later). The second copy should go to your spouse and be placed in a safe deposit box if you are married. The last copy should be kept secure.

Reexamine Your Retirement Accounts

Upon your death, accounts and policies with designated beneficiaries will be transferred directly to the individuals or entities they were intended for in your trust or will. It will be the beneficiary designations for the retirement account that takes precedence.

Contact your employer’s plan administrator or customer service for a current listing of beneficiary selections for each account. You should review each account to ensure that the beneficiaries are correct and current. This is particularly important if you are divorcing or remarried.

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Get your insurance updated.

Life insurance and Annuities will be passed directly to beneficiaries, just like retirement accounts. To ensure your beneficiaries are correct and up to date, you must contact all the life insurance companies where you have policies.

Assign Transfer upon Death Designations

Probate is often used to distribute assets left in wills and those left after a person dies. This is where your assets are distributed according to court instructions. It can be expensive and time-consuming.

Many accounts such as bank savings and CD accounts or individual brokerage accounts are not required to be probated. These accounts can be amended or set up to have a Transfer on Death designation. This allows beneficiaries to receive assets without the need for probate. To set this up, contact your bank or custodian.

Select a Responsible Estate Administrator

When you die, your estate administrator or executor will take care of your will administration. It would be best if you choose someone who can make decisions and is responsible. Do not assume your spouse is the best choice. Consider how your emotions will impact the person’s decision-making abilities.

Create a Last Will and Testament

It serves as a guideline for distributing your assets and preventing any confusion among your heirs. You can also designate the guardian of your minor children and who will care for your pets in a will. Your will can also leave assets to charities.

Wills are relatively inexpensive to create. Many attorneys can help you draft a will for as low as $1,000, depending on your assets and geographic location. With the help of online services and other software packages, you can also create your own will.

Sign and date your last will and testament in front of at least two other witnesses. Have it notarized. Make sure that other people have access to the document’s location so they can find it when necessary.

Regularly review your documents.

Your will should be reviewed at least every two years, as well as after major life events such as marriage, divorce, or the birth of a child. Your wishes and assets are likely to change as your life changes.

Copy the Administrator

After your will has been signed, witnessed, and notarized, you must give a copy to your estate administrator. You should keep a copy of the original in case it isn’t kept at home, such as at your attorney’s office. You can only make copies of the original will. In estate-planning terminology, this is called the “wet signature” document.

Consult an estate attorney and a financial planner

Although you might think you have everything covered, it’s a good idea to consult a professional to review your investment and insurance plans. If it has been a while, you might want to review your plan. Your needs can change as you age, including whether you need long-term care insurance or protect your estate against a large tax bill and lengthy court proceedings. Your bequests could be affected by changes in legislation, income tax laws, or other estate tax laws.

Simpler Finances

You may have multiple 401(k), IRA, or other retirement plans that are open to you from different employers if you have changed jobs. These accounts could be consolidated into one IRA. Consolidating accounts can provide better investment options, lower costs, more investments, and easier management.

Completion of Other Important Documents

You should at least create a will, powers of attorney, and healthcare proxy. You should also designate guardianship to your minor children and any pets in your will. You should consider setting up financial and medical powers to someone you trust to handle your affairs in the event of an emergency.

A letter of instruction can be written to give step-by-step instructions and express your wishes regarding your funeral, digital assets, or how to handle them. Each spouse should make a separate will with the plans for the spouse who is surviving. Also, ensure that each person involved has a copy of the documents.

The bottom line

The biggest enemy of estate planning is procrastination. Although we all hate to think about death, poor or insufficient planning can cause family disputes, assets falling into the wrong hands, lengthy court litigation, and excessive estate taxes. Pick a time that works for you. “Failing to plan is preparing for failure.”

Call Rathburn Associates- (614) 497-9918