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The 6 Steps of Estate Planning

A couple reviewing estate planning documents with a professional

Estate planning can seem daunting. By breaking it down into small steps, we make it easy for all of our clients to keep moving in the right direction.

At a high level, these are the six steps to estate planning.

Estate Planning Step 1: Take an Inventory

What do you own? You probably have more in your name than you realize. Take the time to record everything of significant value. Here’s a short list to help give you ideas:



Other types of real estate

Vehicles (cars, motorcycles, boats, airplanes, RVs, etc.)

Common collectibles

  • Stamps

  • Antiques

  • Trading cards

  • Coins

  • Artwork

Financial assets

  • Bank accounts

  • Stocks

  • Bonds

  • Certificates of deposit (CDs)

  • Retirement accounts (401Ks, IRAs, ROTH IRAs, SEP IRAs, etc.)

  • Health Savings Accounts (HSAs)

  • Business ownership

Misc. valuable items

  • Jewelry

  • Big TVs

  • Computers

Yes, we know it’s a lot of work. But you can’t divide up your assets if you don’t even know what you have! That’s why taking inventory is the first step.

Step 2: Determine Their Value

Some of your assets have an obvious value. You know how much money is in the checking account. Your retirement account has a certain dollar value.

Other things aren’t quite as clear. How much is that old coin collection worth? If you sold that jewelry or computer, how much money could you realistically get for it?

If you want it to be considered in your estate, talk to an expert to see how much these things are worth.

Step 3: Think About Your Family’s Needs

Every family is different. How much does your family need? Don’t just think about your immediate family, but also what would help your grandchildren have a safety net in life. If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that bad things happen and it’s nice to have money in reserves to cover emergencies.

  • Verify you have enough life insurance to take care of your family - even if you’re a dual-income family.

  • Setup a guardian for your kids in your will, and consider even having a backup guardian.

  • Document how you want your children to be cared for. While you can’t dictate everything that happens, you can at least share your wishes.

Step 4: Iron Out Your Legal Directives

The more thorough you plan your estate, the more likely it is to be carried out how you want. Here are a few things to do:

  • Setup a medical care directive, also known as a living will.

  • Give someone financial power of attorney to manage your finances in case you aren’t able to.

  • Setup trusts to make sure portions of your estate are protected and go to the people you want to receive them.

The point of this step is to make sure you don’t leave things to chance. Just make sure you only give a power of attorney to someone you trust will do the right thing!

Step 5: Review the Beneficiaries

Double-check to make sure everything lists your beneficiaries. For example, it’s common for insurance and retirement products to have a section where you name your beneficiaries.

While contingent beneficiaries are usually listed as optional, fill in that section. You just never know what might happen and want your bases covered.

Step 6: Finalize Everything with a Professional

You’ve probably already been working with a professional along the way. If you haven’t, at least make sure you end it on a strong note! Give us a call at 714-663-8000 and we’ll make sure your i’s are dotted and t’s crossed, making sure you have a strong estate plan in place.


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