How to Ensure Your Estate Plan Is Executed Properly by Brette Sember, J.D.

How to Ensure Your Estate Plan Is Executed Properly

Many people start to fill out a will or living trust, but never fully complete it, leaving them without a valid estate plan when they die. Find out what you need to do to finalize your estate plan.

by Brette Sember, J.D.
updated February 20, 2020 · 3 min read

You've completed a will or living trust because planning your estate is important to you, but have you done everything necessary to make sure your documents are legal? Some people start preparing the documents but can't quite finish.

Your estate plan won't do what you want it to do if you don't take all the steps necessary to make sure it will go into effect when you need it to. Don't leave your heirs hanging!

Making the Tough Decisions

One of hardest parts about creating a will or living trust is deciding how you're going to distribute your assets. This can be a very emotional decision for some people. Once you've worked through this, completing your estate plan can become much easier.

Completing Your Will

You've decided who's in and who's out. You've divvied up your belongings, but you're not done yet!

To make sure your will is valid, it's a good idea to complete a self-proving affidavit if your state allows it. This is signed in front of a notary and is attached to the will, basically swearing that you meet your state's requirements to complete a will.

Signing Your Life Away

Your will is not valid until it is signed in front of two witnesses. You'll sign the will while the witnesses watch and then ask the witnesses to sign as well. This is a crucial step, because a will that is signed without witnesses is generally not valid.

Storage Matters

It's important that the completed will is kept in a safe place because it does you no good to have a will that no one can find after your death. Your home safe can be a good place. Your attorney also can keep the will. Make sure your beneficiaries and family know that you have a will and where to locate it.

Completing a Living Trust

Your living trust allows you to use your assets during your life and control their distribution after your death when your successor trustee takes over. After you complete and sign your trust document, there is more work to be done. Your trust is not functional until you actually transfer your assets into it, which is called funding the trust.

This means you will need to change legal ownership of every asset you want to place into the trust, including bank accounts, real estate, investments, and more. These assets will now be owned by “(Your Name), Trustee of the (Your Name) Living Trust."

An additional document you may need is a Certificate of Trust. This is basically a summary of the trust that you can use to show that the trust exists and how title to trust assets is to be held.

Transferring Assets to Your Trust

Follow these steps to transfer assets to your living trust:

  • Transfer real estate with a quitclaim deed, and also change your homeowner's insurance to reflect the name change.
  • To transfer bank accounts and investments, you will need to complete a form from the financial institution and will likely need to provide a Certificate of Trust as proof of the trust's existence.
  • You should create a list of the assets that you want to transfer into the trust, including personal property, such as jewelry and furniture, and attach this as a property schedule to the trust., indicating that ownership of these items is being transferred to the trust. Also, prepare and sign a document assigning the property to the trust.

Managing Your Trust

It's important to stay on top of your trust. As you buy things, be sure to do so in the name of the trust and to update the property schedule. It is also a good idea to create a simple will (called a pour-over will) that will take anything you've forgotten and transfer it to your trust when you die.

Carefully completing and reviewing your estate plan will keep things organized and give you greater peace of mind.

If you haven't created an estate plan and are unsure which estate planning documents you need, our estate planning tool can help you decide.


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Brette Sember, J.D.

About the Author

Brette Sember, J.D.

Brette Sember, J.D. practiced law in New York, including divorce, mediation, family law, adoption, probate and estates, … Read more