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The Ultimate Checklist for Starting Your Estate Plan

On Behalf of | Mar 13, 2024 | Estate Management, Estate Plan, Estate Planning Aid, Estate Planning Checklist

Estate planning can feel overwhelming. Between legalese, complex forms, and life’s busy schedule, it’s easy to put it off – we understand. But a well-crafted estate plan offers peace of mind, knowing your wishes will be respected, and your loved ones will be cared for after you’re gone. To help you navigate the process, we’ve compiled the ultimate estate planning checklist. Consider this your roadmap to getting started on your estate plan:

Gather Your Assets:
  • Real Estate: List all properties you own, even if they are located out of state or in another country.
  • Financial Accounts: Compile a list of checking, savings, investment accounts, retirement plans (401(k), IRAs), and any stock certificates. Note the last 4 digits of the account numbers for these accounts to easily identify them.
  • Tangible Assets: Create an inventory of valuable belongings like jewelry, artwork, or collectibles, (and, if you’re an overachiever, include approximate values). 
  • Debts and Liabilities: List any outstanding loans, mortgages, or lines of credit. Having an idea of liabilities will help your loved ones settle any debts that are outstanding after your passing.
  • Digital Assets: Consider online accounts, social media profiles, and cryptocurrency holdings (if applicable to your situation).


Identify Your Beneficiaries:
  • Heirs: Determine who will inherit your assets, specifying percentages or specific items.
  • Guardians: If you have minor children, designate a guardian to care for them after your passing. We can accomplish this via a standalone designation or by putting a guardianship provision in your Will.
  • Pet Care: If you have beloved pets, consider including provisions for their care in your plan. Consider testamentary gifts to organizations like the Arizona Humane Society.


Choose Your Decision-Makers:
    • Personal Representative: Select a trusted individual to manage your estate and oversee the distribution of assets according to your wishes (also known as an “executor” in other states).
  • Trustee: Usually the same person you pick as your Personal Representative, a Trustee oversees your affairs if you decide to create a trust as your estate planning vehicle.
  • Agents: Appoint someone you trust to make financial and/or medical decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated. 
Consider Essential Documents:
    • Last Will and Testament: This legal document outlines your wishes for asset distribution and appoints your executor. While many mistakenly believe a Will avoids probate, that is usually not the case!
    • Trust (Optional): A Trust can help manage assets, avoid the probate process, and provide for specific needs of beneficiaries. We can include much more detailed provisions and instructions in a Trust than we can in a Will.
    • Durable Power of Attorney: This grants legal authority to your chosen agent(s)  to manage your finances and property if you’re unable to do so yourself.
  • Health Care Power of Attorney: This legal document sets forth your wishes for things like organ donation, autopsy, and other health care wishes if you are ever unable to communicate these wishes for yourself.
  • Living Will: This document specifies your preferences for end-of-life medical care in case of incapacitation.


Review and Update Regularly:
  • Schedule periodic reviews of your estate plan, ideally every 3-5 years or after significant life events like marriage, divorce, births, or relocations.
  • Keep your documents organized and accessible. Share copies with your trusted family members or at least let them know where you keep these documents.


Remember: This checklist serves as a general guide. Consulting with our experienced estate planning attorneys at Windrose Law Center is crucial to ensure your plan is customized to your unique circumstances and complies with Arizona law. By following these steps and seeking further guidance, we can help you create a comprehensive estate plan that safeguards your legacy and provides clarity and direction for your loved ones during a difficult time.