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Beyond Legal Documents: Creating an Estate Plan that Works

You’ve created and signed your will and have put a trust in place. That’s the first step to taking care of your family should anything happen to you. A comprehensive estate plan consists of more than a set of legal documents. The steps you take after signing your documents are critical to securing your family’s safety and wellbeing.

Attorney Shannon McNulty was recently interviewed on The Savvy Parent podcast about the additional steps that are critical to making sure that your estate plan works in practice.

Lists, Letters, and Last Steps

Your will and living trust clarify who will receive your assets and the person responsible for managing the process. However, unless you create a list of assets and how to access them, how will your trustee or your family know where to look? How will they pay the bills without access to funds? Leaving your executor or trustee a list of your assets can save your family a mountain of frustration and financial trouble. In addition to bank accounts and other financial assets, you should include a way for someone to access websites, email accounts, social media and other online accounts that you would want your family to have access to. These accounts do not pass to your family through a will or trust. Without sharing access to these sites, all of your online files and other data can be lost, including precious family photos and other irreplaceable information. Think of your list of assets as a road map to the path of your life. They will help your family navigate a difficult time without a guide map.

Your will designates a guardian to take care of your children should the worst happen. But will the guardian have all the information the will need to take care of your children? Writing a letter to your guardian laying out key practical information like allergies and doctors will make a huge difference in making sure your children receive the proper care – and helping your trusted guardian navigate a difficult situation. Beyond the basics, you may want to share other information, such as the values you want to instill in your children. Are there any religious or cultural practices that you want them to learn? You may also want to guide your trustee with your approach to money and financial priorities for your children. Should they prioritize funds for private education or travel? Are you thrifty or would you want them to have the best of everything? Share your thoughts to help your guardian and trustee care for your children the way you yourself would.

Plan for an Emergency

Once you have completed your documents, created your asset lists, and documented your wishes, share everything with a trusted person so that they have access to it in an emergency.  That emergency contact should also have contact information for your lawyer and financial advisor.

Keep your original legal documents in a safe place and make an electronic copy available to your emergency contact.  You will want to let them know where the originals are kept and how to access them.  Sharing electronic copies of important documents in a shared digital folder digital folder is an easy way to make sure that your trusted person always has the latest version.

Don’t Go It Alone

There’s more to an estate plan than your will and other legal documents.  Be sure to work with an attorney who understands the bigger picture and is committed to making sure that your plan works when it’s needed most.

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