Personal Resource Center

How to Make an Estate Plan

people icon
When it comes to your estate plan, it's important to involve key family members in your decision-making process.


Set Your Beneficiaries

It's important to detail who will inherit your assets and put your wishes in writing. Here are three areas where you'll need to set up beneficiaries:

  • Your retirement accounts (IRA, SEP-IRA, 401(k), pension plans).
  • Life insurance.

Make sure you name primary and contingent beneficiaries for all accounts. It's also important to periodically review your beneficiaries on all your financial accounts, especially if you get married, divorced, or have children. Be aware that an account or life insurance policy with a designated beneficiary, or beneficiaries, will not be controlled by your will or trust and will pass according to the terms of the account or policy outside of your estate.


Complete Key Estate Planning Documents

Your estate has several moving parts, all of which work differently to protect you and your family. Having the right estate planning documents in place is an essential part of ensuring your wishes will come to pass.

Some documents come into effect while you're still alive, and others take effect when you die.

A will or revocable trust states how to distribute your assets and to whom, as well as the person you want to be in charge of distributing your estate (an executor or trustee).

A letter of instruction can accompany your will and can state your intentions for events such as your funeral, preference for burial or cremation, and the location of assets mentioned in your will or trust.

A durable power of attorney can designate a person to make decisions about your finances or healthcare if you cannot.

Advanced medical directives designate who can make medical decisions on your behalf if you become unable to make those decisions for yourself.


Plan for Funeral and Burial Costs

Did you know the median cost of a funeral with viewing and burial in the U.S. for 2023 was $8,3001, while the median cost of a funeral with viewing and cremation was $6,280? The expenses can leave loved ones blindsided, even without a big, formal funeral.

To help ease the burden on your family, your estate plan should include conversations about what should happen after you die. These can include:

  • What should happen to your body when you die (e.g., burial, green burial, cremation, donating your body to science).
  • How you'll pay for funeral expenses (e.g., prepaid funeral or cremation plan, transfer-on-death bank accounts, life insurance).
  • Ceremony details (e.g., location, type of ceremony, guest list, speakers).


Discuss Document Storage

Since your estate plan is, essentially, a collection of legal documents that detail your wishes, you'll want to store them safely and make sure your loved ones (and the executor or trustee) know where to find them. You should also consider a secure digital storage vault to hold copies of these documents and make sure family members have access to this vault.

Your estate plan is a process that helps secure your legacy after you die. Speak to a trust officer or estate planning attorney to start a conversation about your needs. The sooner you start your estate plan, the closer you'll be to peace of mind.

When it comes to your estate plan, it's important to involve key family members in your decision-making process.

Important disclosure information

This content is general in nature and does not constitute legal, tax, accounting, financial or investment advice. You are encouraged to consult with competent legal, tax, accounting, financial or investment professionals based on your specific circumstances. We do not make any warranties as to accuracy or completeness of this information, do not endorse any third-party companies, products, or services described here, and take no liability for your use of this information.

  1. National Funeral Directors Association, "Average Funeral Cost in the U.S.," accessed April 22, 2024. Back