Are My Assets Protected? An Iowa Estate Planning Checklist

Article written by Attorney Kevin O'Flaherty
Updated on
September 1, 2020

In this article, we list the most important items for creating an Iowa estate plan, so you can start protecting your assets right away. We will cover the following items:

  • Designating a healthcare agent and financial agent in an estate plan;
  • Making a list of all the assets you want to be protected under your estate plan;
  • Designating beneficiaries;
  • Decide what vehicle is best for transferring your estate;
  • What should you do with the estate planning documents once completed?

Creating and executing an estate plan isn’t something many of us think of until we accumulate enough assets and/or have significant responsibility in the form of children or relatives. At some point, many people will ask themselves the question, “What happens to all my stuff if and when I die?” Well, the answer to that question is that it goes through probate, which can be a long and expensive process for your heirs. But having your assets pass outside of probate and go directly to those you designate as beneficiaries can be accomplished through a properly prepared estate plan. Furthermore, with the right Iowa estate planning attorney, the process is simple and takes little time. 

Designating a Healthcare Agent and Financial Agent In An Estate Plan

Designating a healthcare agent is one of the first items you should consider when planning your estate. It’s not something we want to think about, but if it’s not done and you end up incapacitated and unable to make your own healthcare decisions your life and your assets may end up in limbo. This decision can be very difficult if you’re not sure what steps you want to be taken in the event you end up on life support, but the point is if you do become unable to speak for yourself and make your own medical decisions someone must do it for you. For those who fail to designate another person in writing, the decision often goes to the spouse or nearest of kin. However, without a legal document showing a designated healthcare agent legal battles between family members have been known to erupt. 

The Healthcare Power of Attorney form designates an individual with the power to act in the principal’s place when making medical decisions. The Durable Power of Attorney For Healthcare must be signed by the principal (or a person designated by the principal) and at least two witnesses in the presence of the principal.

The financial agent acts in much the same way as the healthcare agent but for financial decisions. If the principal is unable to be present or is physically incapable of making a financial decision, the designated financial agent will step in as the representative of the principal. 

If not specifically stated in the estate planning documents, there are very few limitations to what financial decisions can be made by the financial agent. If the principal is concerned about his or her assets being abused by the financial agent the estate planning documents can be written to include instructions on how to handle any number of financial scenarios. For more information on financial and healthcare agents and durable power of attorney click here.

Making A List of All The Assets You Want To Be Protected Under Your Estate Plan

At first glance, this may sound like an extremely tedious and time-consuming task, but fear not the point is not to list every chair, desk, fork, and other items owned. For the most part, the principal will need to list large assets such as property, cars, retirement accounts, and any other financial holdings. This creates a current assets list. Having this comprehensive list ready to go before the attorney drafts the estate planning documents will make the process much easier. To read more about Estate Accountings click here.

Designating Beneficiaries

When an Iowa resident creates an estate plan the attorney will need to know who will be the beneficiaries of the estate and what each should receive. Having the current assets list complete will help with this process immensely. However, if you don’t have a clear grasp on all your finances, need to draft an estate plan very quickly, or just want to split everything evenly, then a current assets list is not immediately necessary. 

Decide What Vehicle Is Best For Transferring Your Estate

This is an excellent conversation to have with your estate planning attorney or probate attorney. They can guide you through the process and explain which estate planning option is the best for your situation. Two common options are a will and revocable living trust.

The primary difference between a will and revocable living trust is that a will is basically a document that states how the principal wants their estate be to divided. It still has to be “proven” in the probate process to make sure it is authentic. This process can take time and delays the legatees (beneficiaries) from receiving assets listed in the will. The revocable living trust places all your stuff into a trust and upon your death, everything will be transferred directly to your beneficiaries, avoiding probate.

What To Do With The Estate Planning Documents Once Completed?

Keep them safe; have multiple copies made and scan the will or trust onto a secure device so that a digital copy exists. Keep the original somewhere that isn’t subject to environmental damage. If a will or trust cannot be produced upon the death of an individual then the court may have no choice but to have all the decedent’s assets go through probate and be dispersed base on the state’s intestate laws.

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