Most of us like lists. Some people make To Do lists and follow them scrupulously, while others make lists and then ignore them. Still, whatever kind of list-maker you are, there’s something about seeing those important tasks on paper or your computer or smart phone screen that focuses our thoughts and rearranges our priorities.
Being an Estate-Planning Grownup
Maybe that’s why we like this straightforward article we found on the legal website called Above the Law. “Estate Planning Resolutions For 2019,” it’s titled: “How To Be A Grown-Up In The New Year.” At a time when many are making New Year’s Resolutions, this article might be extremely helpful. “The month of January is often met with clients eager to complete their New Year’s resolutions to act more adult,” writes the author, Cori Robinson, an elder law attorney in New York and New Jersey. Along with the typical list – lose weight, save more, eat better, and so on – a prudent person might well decide to use the start of 2019 to consider looming legal and financial issues. “From a legal perspective, the new year is the perfect impetus for tackling life’s perennial to-do list,” says Robinson.
An Estate-Planning Punch List
The article provides what she calls “a punch list that every adult should look to achieve” in 2019. Let’s take a look at her list of the top ten estate planning priorities. In our view, while no list is perfect, this is a good place to start – but we do have an addition to the list, as you’ll see.
- Write a Last Will and Testament: According to AARP, about 60 percent of Americans have not prepared even a simple will. While you can get the forms online and do it yourself, we think it’s almost always best to get good legal advice. In the event you die intestate – without a will – the state determines the disposition of your property and even custody of your children. “Avoid potential conflicts,” says Cori Robinson, with “a last will and testament, properly executed under the guidance of an attorney in your jurisdiction.”
- Make a Power of Attorney: Robinson says, “This document authorizes an agent to stand in your place regarding financial matters in the event you are unable to do act for yourself” – matters which can include banking, filing taxes, and selling (and purchasing) real estate. Make certain you choose someone you trust fully to fill this role.
- Execute a Health Care Proxy: This document is critically important at any age, not just as we grow older. “If you are unable to make medical decisions for yourself, your health care agent will act in your stead,” attorney Robinson explains. “It is important to make your wishes known to your appointed agent, including your preferences for care in the event you suffer from a terminal illness with no chance of survival.” We agree.
- Purchase a life insurance policy: In her article, Robinson makes this a blanket recommendation, but we would add “depending on your age and situation in life.” If you have a family, life insurance may be essential to help them survive financially if you die. But we do take issue with her suggestion that you rely on an insurance agent to recommend how much insurance (and what type) to buy. This is probably a conversation to have with a trusted financial adviser instead.
- Check beneficiary designation forms: We’ve written about this before. It’s important to review the beneficiary designation forms for any retirement or insurance accounts to ensure that the right people are listed. This also applies to bank accounts that might include joint owners or named beneficiaries. You may find that the beneficiary you designated years ago is not the person you want today, yet if you die your beneficiary designation form, not your last will and testament, determines who gets the cash. (You’ll find an article on this topic here on the AgingOptions blog.)
- Consider long-term care and disability insurance: We think this is another topic that should be part of an overarching retirement plan. Robinson suggests you consider purchasing a policy that will supplement your income or help pay for home or nursing care caused by illness, accident or aging, and that can be a good strategy, but it may not be for everyone.
- Consult with a financial advisor: This is good advice. “In the event you are trying to save or planning for a family” – or, equally important, for retirement – “it can be beneficial to review your finances and budgeting with a financial planner.” In our view, a good planner will help you develop a Financial Dashboard that will allow you to monitor your financial health at every stage of your life. Contact AgingOptions and we’ll refer you to a trusted financial professional who will take this helpful approach.
- Talk to your parents and grandparents about their estate plans: “There comes a time when the child and parent switch roles,” Robinson says. “Inquire with the older generations as to their estate plans and whether they have executed necessary documents to make their aging and eventual death easier to handle.” We also like her suggestion that you talk with your parents to make sure you know where their important documents and instructions are located.
- Consider burial options: This is an important discussion you should have with your family and closest friends. It’s also good to know the wishes of older relatives. Find out whether there might be a family burial plot that you didn’t know about. Consider pre-paid burial plans in order to make the costs more predictable.
- Inventory your assets: “Take a survey of what you own, including money accounts, jewelry, art, stocks, and business assets,” says Cori Robinson. Make sure you resolve ownership disputes now and don’t leave them for your heirs to address. This applies to all sorts of legal “unfinished business,” she adds: “it would behoove you to resolve any outstanding issues while you have the ability to do so yourself.” We’ve seen a great many families in turmoil because a parent ignored this sage advice.
Putting the “Plan” in Estate-Planning
The one thing we would add is to make 2019 the year you put a truly comprehensive retirement strategy in place. Protecting your assets in retirement is a key part of such a strategy – and part of that protection involves making certain your wishes are carried out at every stage of your life as well as after you’re gone. We work with our clients to help them establish a comprehensive retirement plan, called a LifePlan, dealing with all five pillars of planning for a sound future: finances, legal affairs, health care, housing choices and family relationships. With a LifePlan in place, you and your loved ones will face the future with greater confidence and peace of mind.
We invite you to begin the planning process by attending one of our free LifePlanning Seminars, held in locations all over the Puget Sound area. You’ll gain a valuable amount of very helpful information in one highly enjoyable, fast-paced evening. Simply visit our Live Events page for dates and times and online registration. Of course, should you wish to make an appointment for an in-person consultation, contact us. It will be a pleasure to work with you to establish a solid plan for your retirement years!
(originally reported at https://abovethelaw.com)