Before you even decide whether you need a will or a living trust, you need to assess where your finances are now and what you want to happen in the future. The American Endowment Foundation recommends a six-step process, including:
Define Your Estate Planning Goals: How do you want your assets distributed? Who do you want to handle the distribution? What are your concerns about privacy and family harmony? What estate tax implications will your heirs face?
Gather And Organize Your Financial Data: Collect all pertinent documents and statements and calculate your current net worth. Figure out how you hold title to any property you own, and review your beneficiary selections on all bank, brokerage, and insurance accounts.
Analyze & Discuss: At this point in the process, you want to bring in your financial adviser or probate lawyer and develop a flow chart showing the parameters of your existing estate plan.
Develop Strategies: Now you are nearing the point where you will be able to determine whether a will or living trust works better for your given circumstances and wishes.
Implement Your Estate Plan: This includes figuring out where your documents will be located and making sure the person charged with handling your estate not only knows where they are located, but understands your wishes and motives behind the decisions you have made.
Monitor Progress: Once you have an estate plan in place, you should review it annually to make sure it still reflects your goals. Additional reviews should be conducted when your family situation changes.