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The Ultimate Estate Planning Checklist

  • Oppenheimer Life Agency, Ltd.
  • January 10, 2024
To help you start the process of creating a well thought out and comprehensive estate plan follow this checklist.
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Draft a will and ensure it is up-to-date

Passing away without a will, known as dying intestate, means the state will determine how your assets get distributed and to whom. When drafting a will it is important to:

  • Name guardians and back-up guardians for minor children
  • Define who will provide care for children, as well as provide financial support; they may be different individuals
  • Account for all property and important possessions, and document who should receive what
  • Name an executor of the will and a contingent executor, in the event the executor can no longer carry out their duties
  • Hire an estate planning attorney to create the will and ensure it is signed in the presence of a witness(s)
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Gather all important documents

  • Personal identification documents: passport, marriage license and birth certificate
  • Health care documents: HIPAA authorization and advanced health care directives
  • Important tax documents
  • Bank and investment account information
  • Current insurance policies
  • Real estate titles or deeds
  • Divorce documents
  • Last will and testament
  • Trust agreements
  • Any outstanding debt
  • Recurring bills
  • Vehicle titles
  • Other assets such as jewelry and collectables
  • Draft a letter of instruction for your heirs and executor
    • Create a list with instructions on where to find all of the documents above. Also include online accounts and passwords. Include contact information for relatives and friends and any other pertinent information your executor should be aware of.
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Name an advanced health care directive

If you do not have a designated medical care power of attorney, the court will make medical decisions on your behalf should you become incapacitated. When you establish an advance health care directive, you name one or more individuals to direct your medical decisions if you are unable to do so. It will also outline your preferences for medical treatment and care. When appointing someone, consider the following:

  • They should be reliable
  • They should be able to communicate your wishes to your doctor
  • They should feel comfortable standing by your wishes if there are conflicting opinions from other family members

Also consider appointing someone to act on and handle your financial matters should you be unable to do so.

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Elect beneficiaries for qualified retirement accounts and life insurance policies

These accounts will avoid probate so it is important to elect beneficiaries and ensure they are up-to-date.

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Consider using a living trust

A living trust or revocable trust permits assets owned by the trust to avoid probate when passing to heirs. This type of trust has flexibility and can be changed or revoked at any time while the owner is alive. It can be a powerful planning tool as it avoids probate, and can help minimize federal estate taxes.

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Consider your philanthropic goals

Charitable trusts can be utilized to give back to a cause that is meaningful to you.

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Determine how much life insurance you need and the right type of policy for you

Life insurance is traditionally used to provide a death benefit to heirs. It can also be used to meet other future planning needs such as paying off debt, equalizing inheritances, covering education costs, retirement funding and passing assets to a charity.

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Consider owning your life insurance in a trust

A life insurance policy owned by a trust will ensure the proceeds are distributed according to your wishes. It will also distribute your assets privately. If you do have estate tax concerns, the proceeds of a life insurance policy owned by a trust will be distributed outside of your taxable estate.

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If you own a business do you have a succession plan?

A business succession plan is a document outlining who will take over the business upon the owner’s retirement, death or disability. A well thought out succession plan will benefit the departing owner, the business, its employees and the successor.

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Do you have a buy-sell agreement?

A buy-sell agreement is part of a succession plan and allows a retired, disabled or deceased business owner to sell their share of the business. It also affords the co-owners or the business entity the ability to maintain the option to purchase the interest from an existing owner in order to restrict outsiders or undesirable business partners from becoming owners.

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Create a final expense plan

Take into consideration the expenses your family would incur should you pass away, and those that would continue after your passing. Ensure that your estate plan will cover these costs.

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Review your plan

Life events will happen, and when they do, updates to your estate plan should be made accordingly. If any of these items have changed, it is important to update your plan.

  • Marital status of you or any family members
  • Birth of a child or grandchild
  • An illness or disability of you or a family member
  • Financial concerns of any family members
  • Gifts or loans to family members not in your existing plan
  • Updates to a business such as valuation, new sales ventures or succession plan
  • The overall value of your estate
  • Moving, purchasing or selling a property
  • Death of a family member, friend or beneficiary

Following this guide will help ensure that you and your family have a secure financial future, and that your estate will be handled in the way you want it to be. Involving family members in your planning now can create a seamless transition and avoid them needing to make important decisions during a difficult time.

Sources & Disclosure


© 2020 Oppenheimer & Co. Inc. Transacts Business on All Principal Exchanges and Member SIPC. All rights reserved.

This brochure is intended for informational purposes only. The material herein has been obtained from various sources believed to be reliable but is not guaranteed by us as to accuracy or authenticity. All information provided and opinions expressed are subject to change without notice. No part of this brochure may be reproduced in any manner without written permission of Oppenheimer & Co. Inc. (“Oppenheimer”). Neither Oppenheimer nor any of its affiliates or employees provide legal or tax advice. However, your Oppenheimer Financial Advisor will work with clients, their attorneys and their tax professionals to help ensure all of their needs are met and properly executed. Investors should consult with their legal and/or tax Advisors before implementing any wealth transfer strategies. Securities are offered through Oppenheimer. Variable annuities are sold by prospectus only, which describes the risks, fees and surrender charges that may apply. Investors should consider the investment objectives, risk and charges of the investment company carefully before investing. The prospectus contains this and other information. You may obtain a prospectus from your Oppenheimer Financial Advisor. Please read carefully before investing. Oppenheimer may receive compensation in the form of fees or commissions for services referred to and performed by our strategic alliance firms. However, Oppenheimer and the firms mentioned herein are completely independent of each other. Oppenheimer Life Agency Ltd. is a wholly owned subsidiary of Oppenheimer & Co. Inc. 3354073.1