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Please Pass the Cranberries and Get Your Important Documents in Order!

Family celebrationThanksgiving week is a time to celebrate and gather around the table with our families. CBS Boston’s article, “Our Families: The Important Papers,” suggests that it’s also an opportunity to talk about your family and money. Some questions to ask include, what if something happens to you … does someone know where all the important papers are located?

It’s a wise plan to have a responsible person in your life who can access your important papers at every age. You should also make sure that your important paperwork is organized and filed so they can find it, so they don’t have to ransack your home looking for these documents.

Begin by making a list of important people and their contact information.  You should also make the list of where the important documents are located.

Think about this for a minute: you live in State A, and your widowed sister lives in State B. If something should happen to your sis, you may be hundreds of miles away. Do you have the phone numbers for her friends and the next-door neighbor? What about a list of the important people in her life. How about her doctor’s info? Get that contact information, just in case you need it.

OK, now think about what would happen if you had an accident in another state while visiting this week for Thanksgiving and needed someone back home to find your important documents. Are you organized and prepared so you could tell them exactly where to find them? Could they pay the bills while you were in the hospital out of state?

Next, think about your estate planning. If you don’t have a will when you pass away, your assets will be divided by a judge according to the state statutes.

Make sure you’ve talked to an estate planning attorney about a durable power of attorney and a health care proxy. These are important because a power of attorney lets someone to act on your behalf legally and financially if you become incapacitated. A health care proxy allows someone to make medical decisions for you, if you are unable to do so.

Reference: CBS Boston (November 21, 2016) “Our Families: The Important Papers”

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Having the Dreaded “Talk” with Mom and Dad

Bigstock-Senior-couple-standing-togethe-12052331“Family conversations about money are almost always difficult, particularly the topic of estate planning.”

To learn more about this and to find some strategies to address this difficulty, The Chicago Tribune’s recent article, “Have the estate planning talk,” dug into the topic.

This is a tough topic because feelings and money get tied up. Money in many instances can conjure feelings of control (or lack of it), dignity, shame, fear, or a lack of confidence. Many conversations go south quickly. For example: if an adult son asks his mother if she and his father have recently updated their wills, he might be met with a response such as, "Why? Are you hoping we’ll die soon, so you can use your inheritance to finally pay off that huge mortgage we warned you not to take?"

You can see how these kinds of conversations can go downhill pretty fast, which is why everyone should resist the urge to take the bait that’s thrown out. Typically, that’s not the way it’s intended to work.

Rather than jumping into such a discussion with both eyes closed, think about just one issue to start—such as the re-titling of a bank account or making a beneficiary designation. This may help you get into a broader discussion on family finances and estate planning.

Once you get going with a meaningful discussion, ask your parents what goals they’re trying to accomplish, like making sure that assets are passed to the next generation and beyond … or are there concerns about an heir blowing all the money that’s left to him/her? Are there charities to remember in the estate plan?

Talking over these concerns with a qualified estate attorney can help you create an estate plan that addresses all of your issues and concerns. Remember that you’ll want to review your estate plan every few years.

The basic documents to draft with an estate planning attorney are a will (naming a guardian if you have minor children), a letter of instruction, a power of attorney, a health care proxy, and possibly one or more trusts. You want to have these documents ready before anything happens that requires using them.

It’s tough to start a conversation about these issues, but it’s a lot tougher than facing them unprepared.

Reference: Chicago Tribune (October 20, 2016) “Have the estate planning talk”

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Estate Planning for Women

0x600It’s vitally important for everyone to have a plan for their estate, but in the absence of a well-crafted plan, women can be affected more often and more directly than men.  According to www.forbes.com, women live longer than men, on average, and tend to marry older spouses; this makes women three times more likely as men to be widowed at age 65.  An estate plan, as part of an overall retirement plan, is a key necessity for women of all ages, no matter the dollar amount of the estate.  Your estate is everything you own when you pass away, including your home, personal property, investments, bank accounts, retirement plans, life insurance, and business interests.

Northwest Herald’s article, “Home State Bank Emphasizes Estate Planning For Women,”says that a key aspect of estate planning is designating someone you trust to act on your behalf in financial and legal matters in the event you can't (even temporarily) due to illness or disability. Designate this person in a durable power of attorney.

This durable power of attorney is a separate estate planning document from a living will. It expresses your personal preferences about end-of-life care. Also, you need a health care proxy (or health care power of attorney), which authorizes someone to make medical decisions for you. If you don't have a will or living trust indicating who should receive your estate, remember that your state law will do this for you!

Talk to an experienced estate planning attorney in your area to get all of the facts and to help you create these forms.

For more information about estate planning, please visit my estate planning website.

Reference: Northwest Herald (May 29, 2015) “Home State Bank Emphasizes Estate Planning For Women”

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