Estate Planning Tips to Get Your Estate Organized Now

Question: I want my estate to be in order and would like to make sure I am taking care of what is important.  What things should I consider?

Answer:  Here are some tips to help you.

1) Make a “Net Worth Statement.”  The sum of all your assets, before you subtract your liabilities, is your “gross estate” for IRS estate tax filing requirements.  If you die this year and your gross estate exceeds $5.432 million, your executor must file an estate tax return with the Internal Revenue Service.

2) Decide where you want your assets to go.

3) Work with qualified advisors: attorney, financial planner, and tax professional.

4) Update your estate planning documents (wills, trusts, powers of attorney, and health care directives).

5) Choose someone you know and trust to be your executor and successor trustee. Or, ask your advisor for a referral.

6) Choose guardians for your children. If you don’t, the State will.

7) Ask your attorney about the pros and cons of having a living trust.  A properly drafted and funded living trust can save you and your heirs time and money.

8) Review ownership of your assets.  Are they in your trust?  If you are married, should your property be held as community property?  If you are remarried, are both your current spouse and the children from your prior marriage provided for?

9) Review your life insurance.  Will your survivors have enough income?  If you have a large estate, should you have an ILIT (Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust)?

10) Consider annual gifting.  You can give cash or property to children, other heirs, or charity.  There are different ways to make gifts, and there are tax consequences to be aware of.  Ask your advisors for help.

11) Consider paying heirs’ tuition or medical bills. You can make these payments and not include them in your annual gift limits.

12) Plan for succession of your business.  You are not immortal. Proper planning can provide you with retirement income and preserve the fruit of your hard work over the years.

13) Discuss your estate plan with your heirs, and revise if appropriate. It may not be easy, but it will help your heirs if they know what to expect.

14) Write a letter of instruction. It will be a definite help to your executor or successor trustee.  This letter can be as detailed as you want.  Among other things, you can disclose the location of documents, safe deposit boxes, passwords, your wishes for what kind of memorial services you want, what songs you want played, and what you want your obituary to say about you.

15) Organize your financial records if you haven’t already done so.  And make sure your heirs know where to find them.

16) Review your estate plan periodically. Make sure that your documents reflect your current wishes?  Have any beneficiaries, successor trustees, designated executors, or successor owners died?  Has your list of assets and liabilities changed? Are the primary and secondary beneficiaries on your IRAs and other retirement accounts current?

17) Go to the Hospice Giving Foundation’s website at and make use of the four-part “Notes to My Family” PDF document.  The Hospice Giving Foundation provides “Notes to My Family” as a planning tool to give you a convenient place to express your wishes for end-of-life care and to catalog important information. 


Kenneth B. Petersen CFP®, EA, MBA, AIFA® is an investment advisor and Principal of Monterey Private Wealth, Inc., a Wealth Management Firm in Monterey.   He welcomes questions that you may have concerning investing, taxes, retirement, or estate planning.  Send your questions to: Ken Petersen, 2340 Garden Road Suite 202, Monterey, CA93940 or email them to