In addition to the usual resolutions now tempting you to break them, I’ve got something to put on your list for this year.   Once done, it can’t be readily broken.  It’s easier than you think to get started, but may not be pleasant to contemplate.  It may even cost some money.  But once completed, it will  pay dividends for years to come with peace of mind and knowing you have done right by your family.  What I’m talking about here is proper estate planning.  Just resolve to get it done this year and you and your family will be better for it. 

Proper estate planning can save money that would otherwise go to taxes or probate expenses.   That is the economic benefit.   Additionally, and I think more importantly, it frees your family from guessing about what you have and how to properly handle your affairs.  They don’t need that headache.   And even more important than that is you can free them of much of their heartache.  They don’t need the uncertainty (which doesn’t go away even after the decisions are made on your behalf) as to what you would want for yourself or your children or other loved ones. 

If you have minor children and don’t have an estate plan, start working on it right now.  Really, I mean right now; don’t even wait until tomorrow.  At a minimum, as soon as possible you should have guardians nominated, instructions on your ideals for raising your children, and life insurance to cover the costs of  their upbringing and education. 

For those of you that already have a comprehensive estate plan that’s a few years old, make sure you have it reviewed for changes in your personal status or changes in the law.

There are an infinite number of financial, legal and familial situations that come into play with estate planning.  For this reason I think it is important to get a good estate planning attorney.  Try to get a referral from a friend or another attorney you may know.

If you think you can’t afford to hire an attorney or if you are using the lack of an attorney as an excuse not to get started, you can always go to NOLO.com and for 50 bucks get their WillMaker software that has almost all of the forms and instructions listed below.  I’ve used it myself and found it very easy to use.  It walks you through the different documents and asks questions.  Once you realize the importance of these documents after you go through all of the questions that need to be answered, I’m sure you’ll get it done properly through an attorney.  You really don’t have an excuse not to get the process going.  This will at least get you started.  There may be other software programs available, too.

Just so I’m very clear.  I’m not recommending that a 50 dollar software program is the best way to create an estate plan.  I think you should see an attorney.  But that being said, there are impediments for many people to go see an attorney.  I’m just saying that this type of software may get the process started or help someone create an estate plan who wouldn’t otherwise get it done.  

A comprehensive estate plan may include these documents:

  1. Will
  2. Trust
  3. Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care/Health Care Directive
  4. Final Arrangements Instructions
  5. Life Insurance Policy
  6. Disability Insurance Policy
  7. Guardianship Nomination and Instructions for Your Minor Children
  8. Financial Statements
  9. Durable Power of Attorney for Finances
  10. Letter of Instruction where to find financial and estate planning documents

Put all of your documents somewhere very safe.  Make sure copies accessible.  Give copies to your attorney and/or a close friend or relative.  Leave instructions as to where to find the originals and who has copies.

In addition to helping you plan for the future and giving you some peace of mind, putting together your estate plan is a very big gift to your family – a gift for which you won’t get a thank you card.  But it could be a gift that is immeasurably appreciated.

Happy New Year.