Legal Zoom has an estate planning checklist that explains some of the finer points of trusts, assets, and beneficiaries. Their site also has a wealth of resources to help you understand every aspect of estate planning from types of wills, legal jargon, unusual aspects of probate (the legal process where all assets and property are dispelled after a death), and more.
In addition to the list of names you come up with, it is a good rule of thumb to have at least one alternate person to fill those positions. Circumstances may change and your sibling or friend may not be in a position to fulfill the duty they agreed to—you want a backup in the event that happens.
Step Two: Seek Legal Help
Approaching an attorney to do your estate planning may seem like a waste of time or money, especially if you are young and healthy. But this is when you should start the process. “Setting it up in advance is much better because it gives you a chance to think … you have time to designate the best person for each job,” Hess says.
There are online options like Legal Zoom, Rocket Lawyer, and NOLO that provide will-making services with state-specific legal document creation, as well as varying degrees of virtual legal advice to aid in the process. But there are also many advantages to seeing an attorney who specializes in wills and estates.
At the University of Tennessee, the Homer A. Jones, Jr. Wills Clinic is run by the university’s Law Department. It is staffed by law students with a faculty supervisor who is a licensed attorney and must approve all documents that are sent to clients. According to Hess, “They do all the work a licensed attorney who does estate planning would do. They write powers of attorney for health care and financial management, they write living wills, they write wills and trusts. They do some probate and they do conservatorships.”
Clinics like the one at UT are not anomalies; many universities have them. There are usually income guidelines, but services are free if you qualify. Most states also have legal aid societies where people can get free or reduced-cost help with estate planning from licensed attorneys if they cannot afford full fees.
Step Three: Choose Your Document Storage Solution
The old system of filing everything away in a box under your bed has seen a lot of updates in recent years. Websites where you can store and organize all your health care directives, list of beneficiaries, power of attorney paperwork, wills, trusts, deeds, etc. are just a click away for your loved ones. Facilitating this process is one of the best gifts you can give a grieving person.
Below are some document storage programs that are encrypted for security and will provide peace of mind.
This is a comprehensive site that starts with a questionnaire to ascertain marital status, whether you have existing financial or health directives, and situation with any minor children. Once you complete the inventory, Everplans provides specific instruction on what to tackle first, as well as links to articles and helpful resources to demystify the process. It is customized and state-specific—this is important since each state’s laws are different.
There is a free version that provides access to articles and resources, but if you want to upload and store documents, there is an annual fee of $75 that includes a digital vault, access to your appointed deputies (loved ones you supply links to), and bank-level security of all documents.
With data security breaches more common than ever, you may be resistant to putting account numbers and personal information on the web, even if it is encrypted. The Torch does not ask for that type of information. Instead the site walks you through setting up a profile, completing a checklist of important documents to help flesh out what you might be missing, and creating notebooks based on considerations like real estate, pets, and health care.