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Do-it-yourself for simple estate plans

Sandi Weaver has her estate plan in place as she gets ready for a cruise.
Sandi Weaver has her estate plan in place as she gets ready for a cruise.

Traveling this summer? Don’t leave home without your estate plan.

Unfortunately, the unexpected can happen and you’ll want the best for your loved ones left behind. Let’s explore some easy steps you can take yourself to craft a simple estate plan.

To complete your estate planning schedule, enter three categories on a spreadsheet. List all the assets you own, then the assets your spouse owns and follow with the assets owned jointly.

By each asset, list three columns and record the value, the primary beneficiary and the contingent beneficiary. (The contingent beneficiary inherits this asset if both you and the primary beneficiary are dead.) If an asset is missing a beneficiary, enter a “?” to show a gap.

On a simple estate, your goal may be to have no missing “?” gaps, so that no assets pass through your will and incur probate costs. Probate expenses vary widely but can be 5% to 10% of the value, plus attorney and court fees.

Let’s say you have a 401k pension through your employer and a car. You listed your spouse as primary beneficiary when you completed the forms at work but skipped the contingent beneficiary.

What happens if you and your spouse are driving home some Saturday night and you both die in an accident? That account is likely to go through probate and incur higher fees in order to pass to your family. If you want all your 401k to go to a younger brother after you and your spouse are gone, then complete the contingent field.

What happens to the car? We’re fortunate that both Missouri and Kansas allow transfers on death on car titles. For a small fee, you can re-visit the department of motor vehicles and add that to the title so your heir automatically gets the car, without the costs of probate.

Let’s say your spouse has an IRA account and life insurance through his employer. Treat the IRA just like your 401k, completing both primary and contingent fields. The life insurance had both beneficiary fields on the application, but you can add the contingent now if you skipped it initially.

Under the joint category, you may own a house and a bank account with your spouse.

Missouri and Kansas both allow transfer on death beneficiaries on real estate. You can visit the county courthouse or mail in the forms. If you and your spouse are dead, you can leave the asset to your chosen heir(s) for a nominal fee and avoid the higher costs of probate.

When you next visit your bank, complete a payable on death card for your joint savings account so it slides to your chosen family member without fees.

Are there times when you want an asset to process through probate? Yes, and an attorney can identify those unique situations. You’ll want an attorney to complete a will and durable powers of attorney for financial and health care purposes.

Fill-in-the-blank forms are available at reputable estate planning websites and include access to attorneys. That may be suitable for simple plans.

Many financial planners like me help clients organize their estate plans. But can you do it yourself? Absolutely. Set up your schedule and tackle one asset at a time.

Traveling this summer? Don’t leave home without a completed estate plan!

Sandi Weaver is a Certified Financial Planning professional and member of the Financial Planning Association of Greater Kansas City. She provides financial planning through Weaver Financial in Overland Park and works on the Wealth Management Committee in the Missouri Society of CPAs. She holds the Chartered Financial Analyst designation, the benchmark of professionals in the investment field.