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Estate planning checklist

An estate plan is important at any stage of life, but certain life events in particular can serve as motivation to get your will and other documents in order.

Tags: Estate planning, Life events, Planning, Retirement
Published: October 18, 2018

Having an estate plan means you have a plan for what happens to your financial and personal matters if you are unable to manage them yourself.

Estate plans have a number of components, from a will to medical directives. You might not need every document right away. But it’s important to work with an attorney to draft these documents and update your plan throughout your life.

The following checklist covers how major life events might affect your estate plan, and what updates you may want to consider.

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Starting out on your own

Even if you’re young and healthy, accidents can happen. Have you considered who you’d want to make choices for you if something unexpected happened?


  • Create a will which directs what happens to your assets if you pass away. Make a list of your bank accounts, investments, real estate and any valuables, and decide who you want to have them.
  • Choose a power of attorney for property. This person would have control over your financial affairs if you were unable to manage them yourself. (Say you were in a car accident and temporarily incapacitated; this person could sign any paperwork that may be required to continue to pay your bills and manage your financial matters.)
  • Designate a healthcare power of attorney (preferably someone who lives nearby that can be available in an emergency). This is like a property power of attorney but specific to healthcare. (In the same example scenario, this person would have the authority to make decisions regarding your medical treatment.)

Only 41% of millennials have a healthcare power of attorney.1

Getting married

Have you talked to your new spouse about your estate plan? While talking about worst-case scenarios can feel grim during this happy time, discussing your wishes with your partner early on can make future planning easier.


  • Be sure to revise existing wills and have an open discussion about your wishes. In most cases, you’ll likely want to name your spouse as your primary beneficiary.
  • It’s likely you’ll also want to name your partner as your property and healthcare power of attorney. Review your wishes together.
  • Discuss your long term goals. For instance, if you plan to have children, what kind of legacy would you like to leave them? When should they receive it? Are there favorite charities or causes that you wish to benefit?

Welcoming a child

Who will care for your children if you cannot? What kind of inheritance do you hope to provide for them?


  • Name a guardian for your child. You may be able to list more than one guardian, in order of preference, to account for contingencies.
  • Be sure to add your child(ren) as a beneficiary to any wills, insurance policies, retirement plans or other assets.

78% of millennials and 64% of Gen X-ers do not have a will.1


Changing assets and regular maintenance

As your life progresses, your assets and family are likely to change. What do you hope to leave your children? Is financing their education accounted for in your plan? If your financial circumstances have changed since your plan was last revised, does your estate plan reflect the changes?


  • Review your will, including assets and beneficiaries every two years to ensure everything is accounted for. Review more often if you experience a major change in circumstance (marriage, divorce, inheritance, retirement, etc.)
  • Consider setting up a trust. Depending on your circumstances, trusts may give you more control over your assets, both now and in the future while helping to keep your matters private.


Filing for divorce or separating from a spouse

Have you updated your estate planning documents to reflect this change?

*To do:

  • Update your will, trust, powers of attorney and beneficiary designations on life insurance, retirement and other accounts to reflect your new marital situation.
  • Consider updating your financial plan to assure that it is structured to address your current and future financial needs.


Getting re-married

Will your new spouse be your primary beneficiary? What is your partner’s estate plan?

* To-do:

  • Update beneficiary information on all documents related to your estate, including your will, trust, powers of attorney, insurance policies and retirement accounts.
  • Review your plans with your new spouse to help assure your individual and joint goals are met. Do you have children from previous marriages or plan to have children together? What kind of legacy do you hope to leave them?


Death of a parent

Will you inherit any assets from your parent?

* To-do:

  • Make sure to review ownership and beneficiary designations for assets/accounts and any real or personal property you inherit.
  • Consider keeping any inherited assets separate from assets held jointly with a spouse for better asset protection.


Experiencing health changes

Have you outlined your healthcare and do-not-resuscitate (DNR) wishes? Have you shared your wishes with those people who will be responsible for making decisions for you if you’re unable to make them yourself?

* To-do:

  • Review your healthcare power of attorney and discuss your wishes with that person.
  • Write a living will, medical directive, advanced directive or other document that details, in writing, your current wishes as it relates to your healthcare. This can include your thoughts on resuscitation, antibiotics, palliative care and more. The specifics around these documents vary by state, so it’s a good idea to speak with a lawyer or estate planning professional.


As you exit the workforce, where are you in the estate planning process?

* To-do:

  • Create an estate plan if you don’t have one already.
  • Update your existing estate plan to reflect your current circumstances.


Only 58% of people near retirement age (53-71) have estate-planning documents.1

1 “Haven’t Done A Will Yet?” AARP.

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Learn more about the elements of a comprehensive estate plan and the benefits of working with a financial professional.