Estate planning: 5 steps to guide you

Amy Theisen, CFP®
Senior Strategist – Estate and Legacy, Client Needs Research

You’ve worked hard to build your portfolio and financial assets. But what about estate planning? This critical topic often ends up on the back burner because the time “doesn’t feel right.”

There are countless reasons why people avoid estate planning: I’m not wealthy, I’m too young, it’s too complicated, or simply, I don’t want to think about it. The truth is that by not putting your own plan in place, you have a “strategy” by default: the laws of your state.

These tips may help you avoid common estate-planning missteps and ensure your plan works as intended.

1. Ensure core documents (such as a will or will and trust, power of attorney and health directives) are in place

If you don’t have a will, or a will and trust, now is the time to work with your legal professional and get started:

  • A will provides direction for the distribution of your property at death. Importantly, it’s where you can name guardians for any minor children. Generally, a will is simple to put in place. But assets governed by a will pass through probate (the public process for asset distribution), which can be time-consuming.
  • Trust documents name a trustee to manage and distribute the trust’s assets. Your trustee can also provide management should you be unable to do so. Assets titled in the trust avoid probate, providing privacy. But you can’t name guardians in a trust, and drafting one is generally more expensive than with a will.

While most people need a will, not everyone needs a trust. Each situation is unique. When making your decision, think about your age, wealth/assets, need for guardians and privacy concerns.

The last few years have taught us that planning for a health crisis or incapacity planning is critical. Consider adding a power of attorney and heath care directive to your core documents. These allow you to designate who can make medical and financial decisions for you if you’re unable to do so.

2. Review asset titling and beneficiary designations

One mistake you’ll want to avoid is holding assets that are titled differently from how your estate plan is designed. You might have established some accounts long ago but then never updated them to reflect your current situation. Also, many assets pass based on their beneficiary designations or asset titling rather than by the terms of a will or trust.

It’s common to not review how your assets are titled or forget to update your beneficiaries after a life event such as a death, birth, move or divorce. Coordinating your asset titling with your estate documents can help ensure your assets pass as you intend. Your financial advisor can help you review and, if necessary, update how your Edward Jones assets are titled.

3. Tell your loved ones where your documents are and how to access them

The need to access estate, medical directive or incapacity planning documents often occurs suddenly. Make sure your loved ones know how to access them.

For example, many people keep important documents in a secure location, such as a safe. In an emergency, you may not be able to give your loved ones this access. As a best practice, share with your loved ones or those you have designated to act on your behalf how to access these important documents.

While sharing this information is a personal decision, there are benefits to discussing your wishes now. This is your legacy. The more you share, the more your legacy can live on, fostering family harmony and limiting potential future conflict.

4. Don’t forget about digital access

In today’s digital world, you may have online accounts or digital assets. For example, Edward Jones Online Access helps you stay in touch with your finances. Make sure your estate plan addresses digital assets and that you have shared with your loved ones any necessary information regarding these assets and accounts.

5. Review your documents periodically

It’s not uncommon to take a “one and done” approach with estate planning. But reviewing your documents periodically is just as important as setting them up.

Tax system changes, as well as changes in your personal situation, can impact how you would like to distribute your assets. A good practice is to review your estate plan every two to three years, or whenever there are significant changes to tax laws or your financial or family structure.

How you can take action now

An estate plan helps put you in the driver’s seat regarding how your assets pass, who will care for your children and who can make decisions on your behalf. Your financial advisor can work with your tax, legal and estate-planning professionals to help ensure you have an estate plan that matches your goals. To learn more, a recent webinar hosted by Edward Jones strategists titled “Estate Planning: Securing Your Family’s Future” goes in-depth on the topic.

 Chart image displaying percentages of Americans without estate plans, or up-to-date wills or estate plans, and who have experienced related conflicts.


[ADA description: Just over half of Americans, or 55%, die without an estate plan. More than 70%, or 72%, of Americans do not have an up-to-date will or estate plan in place. More than a third of Americans, or 35%, have experienced (or known someone who has experienced) family conflict when no estate plan was in place. Source:]

Important information:

Edward Jones, its employees and financial advisors are not estate planners and cannot provide tax or legal advice. You should consult your estate-planning attorney or qualified tax advisor regarding your situation.