What's on Your Estate Planning “Bucket List”

What's on Your Estate Planning “Bucket List”

Everybody knows what a “bucket list” is, right?

It’s a list (duh) of things you want to do before you die (i.e. “kick the bucket”). I won’t get into the weeds about the concept, so if you want to learn more about bucket lists and also ugly-cry through two boxes of Kleenex, watch the 2007 film The Bucket List with Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson.

But back to the blog.

Just as you and Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson have a bucket list for life, you should also have a bucket list for estate planning. Ask yourself: What do I need to do to arrange my affairs before I die?

Estate planning is about more than just legal documents. A good plan means accounting for your assets and providing the information, documents, and knowledge necessary to ensure a smooth transfer of those assets to the people you want to have them.

To help you create your own estate planning bucket list, here are 10 tips you can use to organize your estate before you die:

1. Get a Will or Trust.

Of course the first item on the bucket list is to create an actual estate plan. I’m an estate planning attorney writing on an estate planning blog. What did you expect?

Formal estate planning documents such as a Last Will and Testament or a Living Trust are crucial to make the administration of your estate as easy as possible. Without them, your estate could be tied up in messy probate — in some cases for years.

What is Asset Protection?

What is Asset Protection?

With increases in the federal estate tax exemption ($5,600,000 for single individuals or $11,200,000 for married couples in 2018) and repeal of the Oklahoma estate tax, estate-tax planning is becoming a non-issue for all but the largest estates in Oklahoma. Instead, a greater concern for most people is protecting their assets from lawsuit judgments.

Why is Asset Protection necessary?

One car wreck, for example, can have a devastating effect on your estate. What if someone is injured in the wreck and sues you? Will your insurance cover it? Your car insurance may include $300,000 in liability insurance; however, if the accident seriously injures or kills someone, a lawsuit judgment could be $1 million dollars or more. In that case, you could be personally responsible for damages above the $300,000 in liability insurance.

What is probate?

What is probate?

Most people hear the word "probate" and start to clam up. Probate is often associated with all the worst parts of the legal system: a slow, lengthy process where nobody wins except the lawyers. The hate of probate is so widespread that Charles Dickens even dedicated most of the plot of Bleak House to describing an endless and fruitless probate.

But is it really that bad?

What is Probate?

No, of course not, and probate serves some very important purposes. Probate is the court process by which your assets are transferred to your heirs after your death. If you own real estate, such as a home, the deed to that property may be in your name alone. Legally, then, only you can sign a deed to transfer title to that property. But who has the authority to convey that property after you die? Although you may assume your spouse or children do, they have no legal authority unless and until the court gives it to them. That is where probate comes in.