You can’t make a good estate plan in five minutes. But when you have a little pocket of time, like while waiting for an appointment or for the end of soccer practice, there are a few estate planning-related tasks that you can easily check off your list. And when they’re done, you can feel proud that you are a super-organized grown-up who has done your best to ensure your loved ones would have an easier time if they were caught in a difficult situation.
- Download an in-case-of-emergency app on your phone (or your child’s phone). Everyone should have a specialized in-case-of-emergency (ICE) app that is accessible without a passcode from the home screen of your phone. In an emergency, first responders search for phones and wallets to find out who you are and who is close to you. In your app, be sure to include emergency contact information for key people, but also include a note such as, “My kids and pets may need care,” so they can accurately assess your situation and contact people who can help.
- Write Human Resources an email to check your beneficiary designations. If you work for a company with employee benefit plans, you can easily ask your Human Resources rep to send you the information about whom you have designated as beneficiary. Beneficiary designations can wreak havoc on your estate plan if they aren’t handled properly, and if you haven’t checked your designations since you had a major life change (a marriage, the birth of a child), it’s a good time to make an update if necessary. You probably wouldn’t want all the benefits to go directly to your oldest child, for example, if you have had a new child since you began working for your company five years ago. If you have taken the time to create a trust for your kids, you want to ensure the trust works, and improper beneficiary designations will bypass your trust and go right into your children’s pockets. You can avoid this by checking all your beneficiary designations.
- Make a list of your medications. Knowing what medications you take is incredibly important for hospitals who are trying to provide care for you in an unexpected circumstance. You should keep this up-to-date list with your other important health care documents, like your power of attorney and your living will, so it is accessible to the people who need the information. They can continue to administer the medication you need, even in an emergency, and they can assess potential side effects and conflicts with other medications. The list would also be invaluable to your health care agent if they were trying to make informed decisions for your care. Even your primary care doctor may not know every medication that is prescribed to you by a specialist, so having a comprehensive list in one place is the best way to ensure you are getting the best care.
- Check your list of important login information. If you were unexpectedly injured in an accident, would the person appointed by your power of attorney document know how to access your online banking system? Would they know when your monthly bills are due, so they can help you avoid late payments? Would they know which financial institutions hold your assets, so they can make payments for your care? It’s great to appoint an agent with a power of attorney, but it’s equally important that they know what to do when appointed. So, go over that list of login information you have prepared and your list of monthly bills, update it, and tuck it into your estate plan, so it can be easily found.
- Schedule coffee with someone who has listed you as health care or financial agent. The best thing you can do when you have found estate planning peace of mind is pay it forward. So, if you know someone has appointed you as health care or financial agent, make sure it won’t lead to any more stress than necessary. Schedule a little time with this important person so you can get to know their values and wishes a little better. You also want to make sure they are as organized as you are, that they have compiled the lists that would make your job as agent easier.
So, the next time you have five minutes and you start to stress about the fact that you haven’t met with an attorney yet to make your estate plan, tackle one of these five-minute tasks, and feel better about the fact that you’re doing the best you can to protect your loved ones in the midst of your busy life.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this article should not be considered tax or legal advice and is not a substitute for such advice. State and federal laws change frequently and the information in this article may not reflect your own state's laws or the most recent changes in state or federal law. For current tax and legal advice, please consult with an accountant or attorney licensed to practice in your state.