Estate Planning

You will want to protect your family and your possessions, making them available to those you love when you die. While most people live to old age, it's important to decide what to do as soon as you own property or get married. Wills, trusts, powers of attorney and living wills are all part of estate planning.

Why Having a Lawyer is Important

The Big Picture

Each state has different laws, and you may need to be covered in the state you declare as your home state and the one in which you are stationed. Because the laws are difficult, it is good to have a lawyer handle your estate plans.

Always keep in mind that there are almost no absolutes in the law. That is, virtually every rule or law has a list of exceptions, sometimes much longer than the rule or law itself. Also, the laws regulating wills, trusts, guardianship and probate are state laws, and every state's laws differ from every other state's laws. Just because you know the law of intestate succession in Ohio does not mean that you know how Illinois handles it. And finally, the law is constantly changing. Legislatures write new law, modify old law, and the courts constantly rule on what the law means.

The preparation of the documents for an estate plan is the practice of law; therefore, having these documents prepared requires the services of an attorney. A good way to find an attorney who specializes in estate planning is to contact the local bar association. Not all attorneys are qualified to prepare complex estate plans, and the local bar association should be able to direct you to an attorney who practices in this area.

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Estate Planning is More Than a Will

The Big Picture

Estate planning is often mistaken for just a will, but there are more documents you will need. You need to take care of the people you leave behind when you die, but you also need to protect yourself if you become incapacitated (e.g. you are unable to speak for yourself, such as recovering from an accident).

You should know what happens if you die without a will; almost certainly, not what you want.

Additionally, estate planning includes actions for dealing with your property should you become incapacitated and unable to manage your own affairs. Estate planning normally includes forming a plan and then writing the necessary documents to carry out the plan. Normally the documents include a will, durable power of attorney, living will, medical directive, trust plan and guardianship.

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Updating and Reviewing Your Estate Plan

The Big Picture

You need to review your plan at certain times of your life to make sure they are still what you want.

Wills give you control over how your possessions are distributed, but the person you choose as an executor should be a trusted person. The role of executor is administratively tough.

Find out about guardianship, and the many different ways they can protect your property, your children and even you—if you become incapacitated.

A power of attorney covers many situations, but you have to know which one to ask for and how to make it work in your situation.

Living wills and medical directives allow you to control what will happen to you and who will make decisions for you if you can't speak for yourself.

Trusts provide you with a tool to help your loved ones financially when you die—and when you don't. Explore the many different kinds of trusts and see if any of them will help pass on more of your money and protect your family.

You'll want to know the tax consequences of inheriting money and property.

Most experts recommend a periodic review of your will every three to five years. It is also a good idea to review the plan when Congress makes major changes in the tax laws.

The general rule is that if a will was valid when it was drafted, it remains valid; however, there may be changes in the law that would render a new will more efficient and less costly to probate. Failure to take advantage of such changes means that less of your estate will pass to your beneficiaries.

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Checklist to Leave With Your Will

Putting Your House in Order

One of the most valuable gifts you can leave to your heirs is a well-organized estate and accurate records of your important personal data. The form that follows is intended to provide an organized structure for you to record important personal data. Your heirs will thank you for completing this information—do it now!

You may want to print a PDF version of the following form or open the file and complete it in Microsoft Word.

Personal and Financial Records

Personal History

  1. Your full legal name:
  2. Your address:
  3. Your telephone number:
  4. Your state of domicile and date of domicile:
  5. Your home of record:
  6. Your date of birth:
  7. Your place of birth:
  8. Your Social Security number:
  9. The country of your citizenship, if other than the United States:
  10. Your marital status: (single, married, divorced, separated, widowed):
  11. Your spouse's full legal name (including maiden name):
  12. Your spouse's address:
  13. Your spouse's Social Security number:
  14. Your spouse's date of birth:
  15. Your spouse's place of birth:
  16. Date of marriage:
  17. Former spouse(s) full legal names (including maiden name(s)), if applicable:
  18. Former spouse(s) address:
  19. Date of marriage to former spouse(s):
  20. Date of divorce from former spouse(s) and name of court granting the divorce:
  21. Your children's full legal names (including maiden names):
  22. Your children's addresses and telephone numbers:
  23. Your children's date of birth:
  24. Your father's full legal name:
  25. Your mother's full legal name (including maiden name):
  26. Your grandchildren's full legal names (including maiden names):

Military Service

  1. Your branch of service:
  2. Your dates of service:
  3. Your rank:
  4. Your service number:
  5. Date of discharge:
  6. Type of discharge:
  7. Your service-connected disabilities ( %):
  8. Your pension and retirement information is located:


  1. Your present employer:
  2. Your present work address:
  3. Your present work telephone number:
  4. Your date of employment:
  5. Your position:
  6. Your employment benefits (life insurance plans, stock options, pension plans, profit-sharing plans) (Include contact information for each):
Real Estate
  1. Address of real estate currently owned:
  2. How the real estate is owned (sole owner, jointly)
  3. If property is owned jointly, names and addresses of other owners:
  4. Real estate purchase price:
  5. Date real estate purchased:
  6. Current tax assessment value:
  7. Mortgage or deed of trust held by:
  8. Current loan amount:
  9. Location of deeds, deeds of trust, title insurance, title abstracts:
  10. If real estate is leased, provide name, address, and telephone number of lessee and location of lease

Financial Accounts

  1. Name of bank or financial institution:
  2. Account number(s):
  3. Type of account (checking, savings, certificate of deposit, money market, Individual Retirement Account):
  4. Current balance:
  5. Name of owner of account (Provide all joint owners' names and addresses):

Stocks and Bonds

  1. Investment broker name, address, and telephone number:
  2. Type of asset (stocks, bonds, mutual fund):
  3. Account number, certificate number or serial number:
  4. Purchase price:
  5. Current value:
  6. Maturity date, if applicable:
  7. Location of certificates or bonds:
  8. Name of owner of accounts or certificates (Provide all joint owners' names and addresses):


  1. Make, model, and year:
  2. Location of title:
  3. Loan amount:
  4. Name of holder of loan and address:
  5. Name of owner (Provide all joint owners' names and addresses):

Business Interests

  1. Type of business (sole proprietorship, partnership, limited liability company, corporation):
  2. Type and amount of ownership (sole owner, shares, membership interest):
  3. Estimated value of business or share of ownership interest:
  4. Name, address, and telephone number of business contacts (CPA, attorney, manager, president):

Titled Assets

  1. Description of asset (boats, RVs, trailers, etc.):
  2. Location of asset:
  3. Location of title to asset:
  4. Purchase price of asset:
  5. Current value of asset:
  6. Name of owner (Provide all joint owners' names and addresses):

Safe-Deposit Boxes

  1. Location of safe-deposit box:
  2. Location of key:
  3. Names and addresses of individuals with signature access to box:

Insurance Policies

  1. Type of policy (life, health, disability, automobile, homeowners, renters):
  2. Policy number:
  3. Name, address, and telephone number of insurance agent:
  4. Amount of coverage:
  5. Location of insurance policy:

Funeral/Burial Instructions

  1. Instructions for burial or cremation:
  2. Cemetery name and address and lot numbers, if applicable:
  3. Location of deed to cemetery lot, if applicable:
  4. Name and address of memorial gifts, if applicable:
  5. Special wishes for ceremony:
  6. Provide a copy of any prepaid funeral policy, if applicable.

Tax Returns

  1. Location of filed tax returns:
  2. Name, address, and telephone number of individual or company who prepared tax returns:


  1. Location of original will and any codicils:
  2. Date of will and any codicils:
  3. Name, address, and telephone number of attorney who prepared will:
  4. Name, address, and telephone number of executor/executrix:


  1. Location of any trusts:
  2. Date of trust:
  3. Name, address, and telephone number of attorney who prepared trust:
  4. Name, address, and telephone number of trustees:

Financial Power of Attorney

  1. Name of agent:
  2. Address and telephone number of attorney-in-fact (agent):
  3. Location of original power of attorney:

Medical Power of Attorney

  1. Name of agent:
  2. Address and telephone number of agent:
  3. Location of power of attorney:

Living Will

  1. Location of living will:

Additional Contacts

  1. Attorney name, address, and telephone number:
  2. Accountant name, address, and telephone number:
  3. Doctor name, address, and telephone number:

Important Personal Friends

  1. The following individuals should be notified of my death:

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