What Are the Steps in the Estate Planning Process?

When you create an estate plan, your estate planning attorney guides you through the process of putting the right legal documents in place to protect yourself and your loved ones for the future. Knowing what to expect in the estate planning process can help you anticipate your attorney’s questions and collect the information you need to provide. In this discussion, Arizona estate planning attorney Shane Peterson provides an overview of the steps in the estate planning process.

Step 1. Identify your estate planning goals and beneficiaries.

To create an estate plan that reflects your personal circumstances, the first step is identifying your estate planning goals. Your goals consist of the concerns you want to make sure your estate plan addresses. Common estate planning goals include:

Your own circumstances may include some of these concerns, as well as other issues that need to be addressed in your estate plan. Identifying all matters that should be part of your plan is extremely important.

During this part of the process, you should also specifically identify all the individuals and organizations who should benefit from your estate. Be certain to make note of anyone who may require special attention because of their own circumstances. Special needs, financial irresponsibility, and other concerns can be effectively addressed in an estate plan, as long as you identify those issues in the estate planning process.

Step 2. Gather information about your property and assets.

To ensure that your estate includes everything you own, you should create an inventory of all your tangible and intangible property and assets. Include items that are in your name alone or that you co-own. Generally, your property and assets include:

  • Real estate interests: Residence, vacation, land, and investment properties
  • Personal property: Separately identify special collections or items, in addition to listing general types of personal property
  • Financial accounts: Bank, brokerage, and all other financial accounts
  • Beneficiary accounts and policies: Retirement accounts, IRA accounts, insurance policies
  • Business property, assets, and ownership interests
  • Digital assets

Step 3. Determine the best structure for your estate plan.

Every estate plan consists of a set of documents tailored to the goals and needs of the individual establishing the plan. Your estate planning attorney works closely with you to determine the best structure for your estate plan, to accomplish all of the goals you identified in Step 1. The structure you and your attorney agree on determines which documents your estate plan will include.

Virtually every estate plan includes a last will and testament. Some (but not all) estate planning goals make it advisable to also include a trust in your estate plan. An estate plan with a trust typically also includes a will, but the will fulfills a different role in an estate with a trust than it does in an estate without a trust.

Durable powers of attorney are also part of every estate plan. These legal documents protect you in the event of incapacity and avoid the need for your loved ones to go to court for authority to make decisions on your behalf. Arizona requires three separate durable powers of attorney for medical decisions, mental health issues, and financial matters. You may also choose to include a living will in your estate plan.

If you own a business, a business succession plan is a crucial part of your estate plan. Addressing business succession ensures that you protect the future of your business, provide for an orderly transfer of the business, and minimize the tax implications for business interests in your estate.

In addition to these estate planning documents, your estate plan may also include other documents to address specific matters and concerns. Implementing an estate plan also may require making changes to other documents to ensure that all your legal documents are consistent with your estate plan.

Step 4. Choose the fiduciaries for your estate plan.

Every estate plan includes designation of fiduciaries to fulfill specific roles during administration of the estate. A fiduciary has specific legal responsibilities under Arizona law. You carefully choose and designate each of these fiduciaries before finalizing your estate plan documents. Fiduciaries in an estate plan include the executor of the estate (who has legal priority to request appointment as the personal representative of the estate), trustee (if the plan includes a trust), and agents under powers of attorney.

Your attorney helps you in the fiduciary selection process, to make certain that you understand the fiduciary’s role and legal obligations and that you choose someone who is capable of performing the legal duties. In some cases, you may choose the same person to perform multiple fiduciary roles, or you may choose different people for different fiduciary duties.

Step 5. Execute and safeguard your estate plan.

Your estate planning attorney carefully reviews all the provisions of every document with you. You should ask any questions you have and make certain you understand what each document accomplishes. When your estate planning documents are final, your attorney helps with execution of all the documents, to make certain the applicable legal requirements for each document are met.

Signing the documents is the last step in establishing your estate plan. With your estate plan firmly in place, you have the peace of mind knowing that you have accomplished the ultimate goal of addressing future contingencies for yourself and your loved ones and made certain all your estate planning goals are fulfilled.

After your plan is final, you keep all the original legal documents. It is essential to safeguard those documents by carefully storing and protecting them, and by making certain your loved ones know where to find them when necessary.

Schedule a Free Consultation With an East Valley Estate Planning Attorney

At Peterson Law Offices, estate planning is a primary focus of our practice. We invite you to reach out to us if you would like to create a new estate plan or revise an existing plan. Your first consultation is always free of charge.

We provide top-quality services at affordable prices and welcome inquiries from clients throughout the East Valley, including Queen Creek, San Tan Valley, Gilbert, Mesa, and Chandler. Schedule your free initial consultation by calling 480-878-5998 or using our online contact form.

Categories: Estate Planning