Estate planning checklist

July 17, 2023

An estate plan, which includes documents such as a will and a healthcare directive, is important no matter your financial standing. This estate planning checklist can help you get started.

The phrase “estate plan” may sound grand, but it’s a very practical set of documents that everyone should have.

Put simply, an estate plan sets out your wishes as to how you would like your estate to be handled after you die or if you became incapacitated. And by “estate,” we mean your assets—such as your home, your investments and anything else of value—plus any other important responsibilities you have, such as children or a guardianship.

The importance of estate planning, is clear, but many people put it off either due to lack of motivation or because they don’t think they have enough assets to leave to anyone.1 In fact:

  • Only 26% of people ages 18-34 have an estate planning document.1
  • Only 27% of people ages 35-54 have an estate planning document.1
  • Only 46% of people over the age of 55 have an estate planning document.1

Whatever your stage of life, and whatever the value of your estate, this checklist provides a path to follow for creating and maintaining your estate plan. You might not need every estate planning document right away. However, it’s important to work with an attorney to draft these documents and update your plan throughout your life. If an estate planning attorney isn’t an option for you right now, there are estate planning software programs that can help you create and maintain these documents.

Ask questions to help inform your estate planning template

Use these guiding questions while you’re assessing your estate plan:

  • Who would you trust to handle your estate after you die or if you’re unable to advocate for yourself?
  • Who would become guardian of your children, if you have them?
  • Who do you want to receive which assets after your passing?
  • Who should make decisions regarding your health if you cannot make them?

Take inventory of your financial assets for your estate plan

Evaluate your current circumstances and existing assets, gathering any documentation before you meet with your attorney. This includes:

  • Current and anticipated future income. Compile recent bank, brokerage and retirement account statements.
  • Total value of assets. This can include your home, other real estate, vehicles, art, jewelry and other physical assets.
  • Total liabilities. Account for your debts and loans, such as your mortgage, personal loans, lines of credit, etc.
  • Insurance policies. Factor in any life insurance policies, their cash values and death benefits.
  • Passwords for all online financial accounts and other digital assets. Provide a list of passwords that will grant access to any digital assets or accounts that may hold important information or have value, such as social media and online bank accounts. You may want to consider using a password management system to store multiple passwords that can be accessed with one password.
  • Beneficiary information. Decide the guardianship of your child(ren), if needed, and determine who will receive which assets after your passing, then note their contact information.
  • Trustee information. Determine the person who will manage your estate and include their contact information.

Draft an estate plan with your estate attorney

It’s important to meet with your estate attorney to get a full picture of what your estate plan will look like. They can help you with important estate plan documents you need to include, like a will, trust and healthcare directive, and answer any questions you may have.

An estate attorney can help you:

  • Create a will that lays out what happens to your assets after you die. If you followed the step above, this will be much easier. Review your will, including assets and beneficiaries, every two years to ensure everything is accounted for. Do so more often if you experience a major change in circumstance (marriage, divorce, children, inheritance, retirement, etc.).
  • Choose a power of attorney for property. This person will have control over your financial affairs if you’re unable to manage them yourself. For example, if you’re in a car accident and temporarily incapacitated, your power of attorney can sign any paperwork that may be required to continue to pay your bills and manage your financial matters.
  • Designate a healthcare power of attorney. A healthcare power of attorney is like a property power of attorney but specific to your medical care. Using the same accident scenario as above, this person would have the authority to make decisions regarding your medical treatment. Preferably, you’ll want to choose someone who lives nearby who can be available in an emergency.
  • 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. 

Adjust your estate plan for life changes

Estate planning documents should accurately reflect your current circumstances—and life can change in the blink of an eye.


Getting married

  • Revise existing wills and have an open discussion about your wishes. In most cases, you’ll name your spouse as your primary beneficiary.
  • Name your spouse as your property and healthcare power of attorney. Review your wishes together to determine if this fits your mutual needs.
  • 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? 


Welcoming a child

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


Filing for divorce or separating from a spouse

  • Update your will, trust, powers of attorney and beneficiary designations on life insurance, retirement and other financial accounts to reflect your new marital situation.
  • Consider updating your financial plan to assure that it’s structured to address your current and future financial needs. Read more about financial considerations in a divorce.


Getting remarried

  • 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. Read more about financial considerations when marrying again.


Death of a parent or loved one

  • 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. Read more about managing finances after the death of a spouse.


Experiencing health changes

  • Discuss your wishes with your healthcare power of attorney.
  • 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 work with an estate planning lawyer in this instance.



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

Once you complete the above estate planning checklist and have an estate plan in place, review it regularly to ensure it continues to represent your wishes for after you’re gone. That way, it will provide you and your loved ones with peace of mind for years to come.


Learn about trust and estate services at U.S. Bank.

Related content

How to protect your digital assets in your estate plan

6 tips for trust fund distribution to beneficiaries

Estate planning documents: Living trusts vs. will vs. living will


Start of disclosure content

Investment and insurance products and services including annuities are:
Not a deposit • Not FDIC insured • May lose value • Not bank guaranteed • Not insured by any federal government agency.

U.S. Wealth Management – U.S. Bank is a marketing logo for U.S. Bank.

The information provided represents the opinion of U.S. Bank. This is not intended to be a forecast of future events or guarantee of future results.

U.S. Bank and its representatives do not provide tax or legal advice. Your tax and financial situation is unique. You should consult your tax and/or legal advisor for advice and information concerning your particular situation.

U.S. Bank does not offer insurance products but may refer you to an affiliated or third party insurance provider.