When someone tells you to “do estate planning,” you may not fully understand what they mean. Do not feel alone. Many Floridians are also confused about financial and health care documents that should be included in a comprehensive estate plan. Establishing your estate value is an important aspect of estate planning, for example. However, you may never have taken a full tally of your personal holdings. Before you get started on an estate plan, let us give you the basic information that should be included in any comprehensive set of documents.

First, and perhaps most importantly, your will must be included in your estate plan. Also consider including information about existing trusts. These will have legal implications and requirements. Health care documentation ought to be included with advance directives spelled out and a family member or friend designated as a decision-making health care proxy.

Next, it is important to have a complete financial picture of your estate before you can complete any estate plan. Know how many bank accounts you have, and know their values. Create lists of those accounts along with documents describing automatic payments that will still be pending. Consider the value of not only your immediate holdings, but also any potential pension, 401(k) and other retirement accounts that you may want to pass on. Also, a list of your usernames and passwords for financial institutions will be critical in the event that online transactions or other activities need to continue after your death.

Your insurance policies can also contribute to the value of your estate, as can real estate, vehicle titles and business holdings. For those who are concerned with asset protection, there is no better shield than simple preparation. Be sure to have all of your documents in order as your estate value is determined, and maintain a comprehensive file for quick reference in case of the unthinkable.

Experienced legal advice is essential to good estate planning. It can help save your loved ones headaches later on, help preserve what you have accumulated, and ensure that your wishes are carried out when you are no longer around.

Luis E. Barreto