While thinking about our own mortality is not at the top of our ‘to do’ lists, many of us want to spare our loved ones from having to deal with the task after we pass away.  Therefore, here is a step-by-step guide to help you prepare your own estate.

Step 1:  Consolidate Important Documents and Contact Information

Gather the following documents and contact information into one safe place:

  • Property deeds;
  • Titles for vehicles;
  • Marriage and birth certificates; and
  • Contact information for: attorney, insurance broker, and doctor.

Step 2:  Last Will and Testament

If you do not make a will, state’s intestacy laws will decide how to deal with your assets, which can be very different from how you would want them handled.  In creating a will, you determine what happens with your property after you die.  You also name an executor or state administrator to handle the distribution of your property as outlined in your will.  This can be a family member, close friend or someone else you trust to carry out your wishes.  Additionally, you can name a legal guardian for minor children, and provide instructions for the care of your pets.

Step 3:  Consider Setting up a Trust

If your children are underage or you are concerned that your beneficiaries are not financially responsible enough to handle a lump sum inheritance, then setting up a trust fund is a good idea.  In a trust, a third party, or trustee, holds assets on behalf of the beneficiary or beneficiaries. Since Trusts aren’t typically subject to probate, beneficiaries can often receive access to the trust’s assets faster than that of a will.

Step 4:  Living Will or Advance Directive

In this document, you specify which individual you want to communicate with any medical personnel regarding your treatment preferences if you are incapacitated or unable to express your wishes.  You also outline your preferences such as resuscitation procedures, breathing tubes, etc.  Some individuals want the doctors to try everything possible while others are concerned about living in a vegetative state and want to limit any procedures carried out.

Step 5:  Power of Attorney

In this document, you name an individual in charge of making health care and financial decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated.  You can name one individual to make all decisions, or two individuals, one for health care decisions and the other for financial decisions.

Step 6:  Final Arrangements

These decisions include whether you wish to donate any organs as well as your wishes for your funeral and memorial services.

Step 7:  Make Duplicate Documents

Now that you have gathered and created all necessary documentation, it is time to make copies.  Store the original in a safe place such as a safe deposit box.  You might want to give copies to those individuals you have named as your decision makers.

Step 8:  Have a Discussion

While the discussion can be uncomfortable, it will help your loved ones in the future.  The discussion helps ensure that your loved ones understand your wishes and eases the decision making process after your death.

Step 9:  Update

As we mature, our wishes often change.  Regularly review your documents, making sure that your wishes have not changed and that those individuals you have named to be your decision makers are still able to do so.


This process of preparing your estate before you do is not for you, but to make life easier for your loved ones after you pass away.