Real Estate Planning Checklist: 5 Key Steps

No one can predict the date and time of your death. But more importantly, what will happen to your estate after you die? For this reason, it is essential to plan everything ahead and be prepared. Estate planning can be a time-consuming, lengthy process;  however, it protects your family members from legal complications that may arise from your postmortem financial affairs in the future. 

Virtually any person over the age of 18 years can, and should, begin thinking about creating an estate plan. The best course of action to take is to consult a professional estate attorney for guidance. Having a general estate planning checklist 2022, however, can simplify the process and keep your interests safe.

Last Will and Testament

Creating a last will and testament can be an intimidating process, which is why there are resources such as the Last Will And Testament template to assist you. Your will must clearly identify the individuals who have the right to inherit your property and assets upon your death. Your property includes both intangible assets (such as investment accounts and bank accounts) and physical assets (such as personal possessions and real estate). You may choose your children, relatives, friends, and others to be your beneficiaries. You may also include the names of minor children’s guardians in your will. 

Revocable living trust

A revocable living trust enables you to allocate your resources after death. This trust acts as a legal tool that you can use to manage your assets and transfer property to your beneficiaries when you die.  Many individuals also choose to set up trusts to avoid inheritance taxes.

Although not necessary, it is highly advantageous to establish a revocable living trust, as you can avoid the unnecessary cost and time of probate.  In states like California, the probate process can be quite complex, expensive, and extremely time-consuming.

There are some important steps you must take to establish the trust. You must create the trust document, sign it, and notarize it. You must select a successor trustee who will manage the trust after your death. After signing the documents for estate planning, your property can be transferred to the trust. Many individuals who own a business  or have a large estate rely on revocable living trusts for their wealth management. 

Beneficiary designations

Beneficiary designations for certain assets allow for the transfer of these assets directly to the named individuals, irrespective of the terms of your will. In other words, there are some assets that are not required to go through probate, so these can be directly transferred to the chosen beneficiaries after your death. They are known as non-probate assets such as pensions, life insurance policies, and 401(k) accounts.

Your will does not have to include these non-probate assets. It is thus important to update your beneficiary designations, as these individuals will be directly receiving the non-probate assets upon your death.

Advance healthcare directive

An advance healthcare directive (AHCD) is a legal document reflecting your wishes as to the nature and extent of the healthcare treatment you would like to receive towards the end of your life and who should make the decisions when you are unable to do so. An AHCD has two primary components: a power of attorney, or POA (for medical care), and a living will.

The living will must clarify the details regarding your preferences for healthcare, such as medical treatment options and medications. With age, you may slowly lose your ability to properly convey your wishes, so it is vital that the will reflects your intentions. 

You must also select a healthcare agent to act as your POA for medical care. This person will have the health care power and will ultimately make all decisions concerning your medical needs when you are unable to do so. 

Financial power of attorney 

Similar to a medical POA, a financial POA is a designated individual with legal authority to make decisions relating to property and finance management. This includes making bill payments, bank deposits, and managing real estate.

You can choose a financial agent who will handle your finances related to medical bill payments and assistance for your family. Financial and healthcare agents work closely together to ensure that the medical care provided is adequate and affordable.

Proof of identity documents

Documents to be used as proof of identity will need to be organized and put together in a single location. These documents include certificates of birth, divorce, and marriage.

  • Financial details and insurance policies

You may have purchased insurance policies for your health, life, home, and/or car. Ensure that you have these relevant insurance documents organized and easily accessible. Your financial accounts must also be readily accessible, especially in times of emergency. Other relevant documents may include your pension schemes, mortgages, bank accounts, and investment portfolios..

  • Assign death designations transfer

Some assets are required to go through probate in case you die intestate, or without a will. The probate process, in which assets are allocated per court instructions, may be very time-consuming and costly. However, certain assets such as CD accounts, savings accounts, and brokerage accounts may avoid probate. While holding these accounts, you can amend the terms to allow for a transfer-on-death designation. Beneficiaries will then be able to obtain these assets after your death without undergoing the extensive probate process.

  • Retirement account review

Policies and accounts with designated beneficiaries, such as retirement accounts, will directly pass to those beneficiaries upon your death. Connect with the customer service representatives for each of your accounts to verify your current beneficiary selections. Assess every account to ensure that the chosen beneficiaries are properly listed. This is important to do in situations involving divorce or remarriage.

What To Do Once You Have Your Documents

After going through your estate planning documents checklist and arranging all your documents, make sure you store them in a safe, readily accessible location. Ensure that your close relatives or other family members know where to find these documents. You may even wish to give them a copy of these documents, such as your healthcare agent, who will need a copy of your healthcare directives.

Remember that there are many qualified and highly skilled estate attorneys to help you through the estate planning process.

  • Create a list of memberships

If you are currently a member of an organization, like AARP, a college alumni group, or a veteran’s association, you should create a list of these organizations and keep it handy. Some organizations offer accidental life insurance solutions at a low cost. Your beneficiaries may be qualified for these insurance benefits.

Include other charitable agencies for which you have worked. Let beneficiaries know about these charities to avoid any problems in the future. 

  • Assemble a debt list

You should also create a separate list of any financial obligations and open credit cards with balances due and owing. This list should include items such as mortgages, auto loans, and equity lines of credit. You should also write down the contact information of the companies that you owe a financial responsibility towards.

Additionally, you should list all your debit and credit cards, especially the ones you use regularly. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What does a proper estate plan include?

Your testament, last will, living will, and healthcare directives are essential for a successful estate plan. Also, more than one trust can be set up to further simplify the distribution of your assets. 

What is the first step in estate planning?

Identifying the number and types of assets you own is the first step. It is also essential to create an inventory of all your intangible and tangible personal property. 

What is 5 or 5 rule in estate planning?

A 5 by 5 power clause is intended to enable the beneficiary to make certain withdrawals as needed from the trust. The amount that can be withdrawn is either $5,000 or 5% of the fair market value of the trust assets, whichever is greater. 

Wealthy individuals with large amounts of money and potentially irresponsible beneficiaries may want to include the 5 by 5 power clause, as it sets parameters for the accessibility of the funds. For instance, a trust owner can create a rule that under the 5 by 5 power clause, the funds will be available for the beneficiary solely for educational purposes.


Don’t delay in making your simple estate planning worksheet. Although many people do not like to contemplate their mortality, improper estate planning (or lack thereof) may result in needless confusion and family conflicts after your death. Also, your assets may end up in the wrong hands. Hire an attorney to help guide you through the planning process according to 2022 legal rules.

Article by Megan Thompson

Megan Thompson is a legal writer at Lawrina. Megan writes about different law practice areas, legal innovations, and shares her knowledge about her legal practice. As a graduate of the American University's Washington College of Law she is an expert of law in Lawrina's team and has a slight editing touch to all content that is published on the website.

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