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Your Estate Planning Checklist

A practical guide for protecting your assets and taking care of your family when you’re no longer around.

We all know that life can be unpredictable. That’s why it’s crucial to plan ahead. Estate planning might sound like a complicated task, but it’s a responsible move that helps to make sure your assets are protected and distributed in line with what you want, and that your family’s taken care of should you no longer be around. Estate planning isn’t  just for the wealthy. Whether you have a modest nest egg or something more, having an effective estate plan helps to avoid confusion and disputes down the line.

Estate planning involves making decisions about what happens to your assets when you’re no longer around and making sure those wishes are legally binding. It typically includes creating a will, establishing powers of attorney, and considering trust structures. If you’ve been putting it off, it’s easy to get started. In this guide, we break down the estate planning process, with practical tips to help you start planning today.

1. Understanding the basics

Estate planning starts with writing a will. No matter how straightforward your circumstances are, having a will makes sure everyone understands what you’d like done with your estate when you die. Did you know that if you die without a will, the government will use a formula to divide up your assets? If you don’t have a will – and you’re not keen on your assets being distributed according to NZ law – then it’s time to get will writing!

A will is a document where you can specify how your assets should be distributed and who will handle your affairs once you’re gone. If you have children or other dependents, you can use your will to instruct how you’d like them to be cared for if you pass away. And your will can also provide instructions for your funeral.

You can create a will yourself using an online platform such as FootPrint, Public Trust or LawHawk, but it also pays to seek expert financial advice to make things easier. A financial adviser who is qualified in estate planning will be able to guide you through the process.

2. Write down everything you own

To kick things off, write down everything you own – this includes your physical assets, financial assets, and any sentimental items you’ve got. Here are some examples to help you get started:

• Physical assets – property, vehicles, boats, furniture, artwork, jewellery, etc.
Financial assets – savings accounts, investments, shares, KiwiSaver, life insurance policies, funeral insurance policies, etc.
• Sentimental belongings – family heirlooms, photo albums, trophies, priceless antiques, souvenirs, etc.

Keeping track of the value of each item can be beneficial when it comes to distributing assets to beneficiaries, so we recommend making a note of how much each item is worth. Our team can work with you to finalise your will, ensuring that you’ve thought through the financial implications of distributing your property, investments, personal belongings, and even your digital assets.

3. Designate beneficiaries

To ensure the smooth distribution of your assets, and that your loved ones are looked after in line with your wishes, you’ll need to specify individuals or organisations as beneficiaries of your estate.

Clearly identify all beneficiaries by their full names or organisation names, include any relevant contact information, and specify the assets you intend to distribute to each of them. Be specific to avoid ambiguity or confusion. Also think about including contingent beneficiaries who will receive the assets if the primary beneficiaries are unable to do so.

At Blue Canoe, we generally recommend that you review your will every 3 years, or whenever there are significant life changes or events that could impact your estate planning – for example, a birth or death in the family, a marriage, a divorce, or a change in financial situation.

With some assets, like life insurance policies, you’ll be able to designate beneficiaries upfront. Talk to your insurance provider to make sure you know what would happen with your policy payout should you pass away.

4. Appoint executors of your estate

As part of the will writing process, you’ll also need to appoint one or more executors of your estate. An executor is an individual or entity designated in a will to carry out the administration of a deceased person’s estate. Your designated executor will have the legal authority and responsibility to manage the distribution of your assets according to the terms of your will, settle any debts owed, and handle other necessary tasks to wrap up your affairs.

An executor should be aged 18 or older and should be someone you can trust to carry out your wishes. Many people choose to appoint multiple executors of their estate so that responsibility is shared, and a back-up is there incase of unavailability.

5. Appoint a Power of Attorney

Consider appointing a Power of Attorney (POA) who can act on your behalf if you’re unable to, due to illness or injury. A medical POA is someone you trust to make medical decisions for you if you become incapacitated, while an enduring POA handles your legal and financial matters. Choose a reliable person to act as your POA and have an honest conversation with them about your expectations, healthcare and end of life wishes in advance.

6. Think about debts and taxes

Besides dividing up your assets, your executor has the job of paying off any debts you owe. Those debts get taken care of before anything goes to your beneficiaries. To make things easier for your executor, make sure you keep good financial and tax records and let them know where to find them. It’s also a good idea to talk to a financial advisor who knows about NZ tax laws because taxes can affect what your beneficiaries end up with.

7. Plan your funeral

Even the simplest funeral can end up costing thousands of dollars, with the average in NZ ranging from $8,000 to $10,000. That’s why we’re seeing more and more Kiwis take out funeral insurance policies to cover their funeral plans. Funeral insurance provides a lump-sum payout to your executor, who can use it for funeral expenses and other unexpected costs like credit card bills. This allows your family to focus on what truly matters without financial pressure during an already difficult time.

If you’ve got life insurance and plan to use part of it to cover your funeral costs, make sure you name a beneficiary. Otherwise, your life insurance policy will be paid to your estate, which can take up to 18 months in some cases!

8. Consider your trust

A trust is a legal arrangement that allows you to transfer assets to a separate entity (the trust) for the benefit of others (the beneficiaries). If you have a trust, it’s worth thinking about how your estate looks from the trust’s point of view.

Have a memorandum of wishes (also known as a letter of wishes) in place to help guide trustees on how to manage the trust after you’re gone. It can be as specific or broad as you like, and while it’s not legally binding, it’ll make life easier for your executors when it’s time to handle your estate. You can also decide who gets to choose and remove trustees for your trust once you’re no longer around.

9. Keep your documents in a safe place

Time to get your ducks in a row! Gather all your important documents – your will, insurance policies, financial statements, trust documents and account information – and store them in a safe place. Make sure your executors or loved ones know where to find them. Consider giving copies to your POA, executor, or trusted family members to be extra safe.

10. Regularly review your estate plan

Estate planning isn’t a one-time thing. It’s an ongoing process. Remember to review your estate plan every 3 years or after significant life events like marriage, divorce, the arrival of little ones, or major changes in your financial situation. Keeping your will and other estate planning documents up to date ensures that your wishes accurately reflect your current circumstances.

Estate planning can feel like navigating a maze, so don’t hesitate to seek professional advice. Engage a qualified financial adviser to guide you through the process. At Blue Canoe, we’ll ensure that your estate plan complies with all legal requirements and aligns with your unique circumstances and wishes.

Find out how we can assist you with estate planning so that your wealth is protected and your assets are managed by the right people. Get in touch today.

Find us at Level 14, 22 Willeston Street, Wellington, 6011
Contact Hans: 027 230 1045
Contact Isaac: 027 339 0879
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