1. Organize financial assets.
Make sure your family and/or personal representative can find your insurance policies, deeds, titles, pension information and financial account records. For online accounts, keep a list of passwords in a safe place and let your personal representative/executor (the person who will be responsible for carrying out your wishes) know where it is.
2. Review beneficiary designations.
The accounts and policies in which you listed a beneficiary will pass to that person after you're gone. Updating beneficiaries is especially important because these designations take precedence over your will instructions. How to get started: Review and update beneficiaries on insurance policies, employer-sponsored retirement plans, individual retirement accounts (IRAs) and annuities.
3. Create a will.
The most basic estate planning document, a will allows you to name beneficiaries, distribute personal property and, if you have minor children, name their guardians. How to get started: Hire a lawyer to draw up your will or use will-preparation software and write it yourself. (If you prepare a will yourself, you may want to have a lawyer review it to ensure everything is in order.) Find a lawyer in your area on the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys website.
4. Consider a trust.
A trust may give you more control, more flexibility, help you reach charitable goals and—depending on the type of trust—may help save on estate taxes.
Trusts can relieve heirs of the burden of managing assets. They can also spell out conditions heirs must meet before assets are transferred to them. And they can be an excellent way to provide for both a surviving spouse and children from a previous marriage. How to get started: Navy Federal Financial Group provides a full array of Trust Services to help you with estate planning, trustee services, executor services and special needs trusts. If your trust needs are more basic, Navy Federal Credit Union offers Estate Management options to help members manage and transfer assets themselves.
5. Set up a living will.
A living will, also called a health care declaration or directive, allows you to specify in writing the kinds of health care you want under certain conditions if you're unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to communicate. How to get started: Each state has different forms and requirements for setting up a living will. You may be able to obtain these forms from your health care provider or your state department on aging.
6. Designate a health care proxy.
A health care proxy, also known as health care agent or medical power of attorney, enables you to authorize someone you trust to make medical decisions on your behalf if you're not able to. How to get started: View the American Bar Association's Guide to Giving Someone a Power of Attorney for Your Health Care. You may also seek guidance from an estate-planning attorney.
7. Consider naming a financial power of attorney.
This will allow a trusted individual to take care of your financial affairs should you become incapacitated. How to get started: An estate-planning attorney can help you draft the legal forms to assign power of attorney. Need help with next steps? Navy Federal Credit Union offers trust and estate planning services to help ensure you're prepared. The experienced trust services professionals can help you put in place the tools you need to plan for your heirs' future.