The Estate Planning Checklist You Didn’t Know You Needed

You might feel as though you don’t need to plan your estate yet

However, this is one step in your financial strategy that you don’t want to put off. Many feel hesitant because, similarly to life insurance, estate planning implies planning for the end of your life. Instead, try to think of it as a way to protect your family from undue stress if the unexpected were to happen. 

Estate planning doesn’t have to be a stressful process. We’ve put together a checklist to help you get started.

1. Identify Your Goals

Planning your estate can have a multitude of goals. You may want to protect loved ones, your business, your assets, or even charities. To identify your goals, consider what would happen if you were suddenly without the ability to make decisions or you were to pass away unexpectedly. How would you want your affairs to be handled? Asking yourself this question will help you determine what to do along the way. 

2. Check Your State’s Estate Tax Laws

Though most will not pay federal estate or inheritance taxes—unless you inherit $11.7 million or more (as of 2021)—you could be subject to state taxes. Become familiar with your state’s tax laws to determine the best ways to minimize your estate’s tax liability. This step is especially important if your goal is to protect your heirs, as they would be paying the state tax on the money they received. 

3. Take Inventory of Your Most Valuable Items

Before you really dive into planning your estate, you’ll want to have a good understanding of what types of assets you own and how much they’re worth. In fact, you may have more in assets than you think once you begin making your list. Make sure that you list both tangible (e.g., cars, homes, collectibles, etc.) and intangible (e.g., retirement accounts, investments, savings, etc.) assets. When you’re finished, estimate each item’s value as closely as possible. 

4. Review Your Insurance Coverage

This is a great time to review your insurance coverage, keeping in mind that policies such as life insurance and annuities will pass along to your beneficiaries. When you consider the goal of your estate plan, you may decide to increase or change your insurance coverage accordingly. 

5. Run a Credit Report and Make Note of Debts

It’s recommended that you run a full credit report every year to monitor your credit and debt. While planning your estate, you can use your credit report to make a comprehensive list of all of your debt that may affect your plan or its goals. 

6. Review Your Retirement Accounts 

Though your retirement account should be on your list of intangible assets (see number two on this list), this is a good time to review your beneficiaries. Ensure that in the event of your death that your funds would be given to their intended recipient. A lot can change from year to year, so it’s important to review your beneficiaries on all accounts at least once a year. 

7. Choose an Administrator

You’ll want to choose an administrator or executor of your estate who will ensure that your wishes are carried out correctly. This should be a person that you trust and who is responsible and of sound mind. Like your beneficiaries, your executor might change down the line.

8. Build Necessary Documentation

You will need multiple documents to support your estate plan, such as a will, a living will, a power of attorney, and a healthcare proxy. These are all in place so that your plans are in writing and that it’s clear what your wishes are if you aren’t able to make decisions for yourself or you pass away.

9. Set a Schedule to Revisit Your Plan 

As we’ve mentioned in nearly every point of this checklist, it’s crucial that you review your estate plan on an annual basis so that you are always aware of the details. Pay close attention to your beneficiaries. Also, remember the goals we set at the beginning? Refer back to those goals during your plan reviews to ensure that you’re staying true to those goals, or to see if your goals might have changed.

10. Communicate Your Plan with Family

Making your plans clear with your loved ones can alleviate future tensions. If you can talk through your expectations now, it leaves less room for confusion and stress down the road.

11. Consider Hiring an Estate Planning Professional

A lot goes into estate planning, particularly if you want to be sure that all of your bases are covered. Consider enlisting the help of a professional. Having an ally on your side can make this process much easier with less hassle.

Got estate planning questions?

Southwestern Investment Group’s advisors can help you build the estate plan to meet your financial goals. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.

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Jeffrey T. Dobyns


President, SageSpring | Financial Advisor, RJFS 

Jeffrey T. Dobyns

President, SageSpring | Financial Advisor, RJFS

Beyond crunching numbers and investment strategies, at SageSpring, we’re about building relationships. When you encounter Founder & President of SageSpring, Jeff Dobyns, it’s easy to understand why this is at the very heart of who we are as a firm. You won’t find stuffy formalities with Jeff; instead, you can expect to find him sharing a warm smile, communicating a compelling vision, or patiently untangling life’s complex challenges with clients. He believes in truly getting to know clients, understanding their aspirations and priorities, and navigating their financial plans with a tailored, comprehensive approach. Our team members have often been caught taking notes on Jeff’s effortless relationship skills from a distance, and we admire them for striving to learn from one of the best. 

Jeff’s financial expertise and wisdom are the perfect match to his innate people skills. Jeff holds the prestigious CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNERTM certification, Chartered Life Underwriter (CLU®), and Chartered Financial Consultant (ChLU®) designations, and has held executive positions with financial planning firms for more than two decades. 

His dedication extends beyond the office to the boardroom and the local community, where Jeff is passionate about giving back. He serves as Chairman of the Board of Men of Valor, a prison ministry and mentoring program. Jeff also serves on the board of Send Musicians to Prison, which shares hope, healing and restoration with the imprisoned through musicians & artists. Jeff actively supports other initiatives in the community by sitting on the board of The Signatry of Middle Tennessee and the Halftime Institute of Nashville. 

Witnessing his four children, Gracyn, Hunter, Tanner, and Logan, excel on the field is almost just as rewarding, if not more, than celebrating the victories of seeing his clients overcome obstacles and build wealth. Spending weekends boating on the lake, hiking mountain trails, and fishing with his family are the moments Jeff cherishes most. It’s this grounded perspective that reveals the true meaning of wealth for Jeff: not just numbers on a page, but the freedom to create experiences that enrich your life and the lives of those you love. When you choose the Dobyns McMillin Wealth Team, you choose more than financial expertise. You choose a partner who champions your dreams, celebrates your victories, and walks besides you on the path to achieving your unique goals.

**Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc. owns the certification marks CFP®, CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER TM, CFP® (with plaque design) and CFP® (with flame design) in the U.S., which it awards to individuals who successfully complete CFP Board’s initial and ongoing certification requirements.