Posted by: Robin Gronsky | March 26, 2013

Annual Spring Cleaning For Your Estate Planning

It’s spring and lots of us are scrubbing our houses from top to bottom in that annual ritual known as spring cleaning.  Start a new habit with your paperwork and do an annual spring cleaning for your estate planning.

First step is to locate your estate planning documents.  Are they with your lawyer (that’s safe but do your loved ones know who your lawyer is), in your safe deposit box at the bank (not a great spot if your loved ones don’t normally have access to the box), a drawer in your desk or filing cabinet (a better choice) or in a fireproof box somewhere in your house (I think this is the best choice)?  If you can’t find your estate planning documents, you may as well start over and create new ones.  You really don’t have an estate plan if your loved ones can’t produce it for the courts.

OK, suppose you found your documents.  Are all of them there?  Do you have a Will, a Durable Power of Attorney, and a Health Care Directive (also may be known as a Health Care Proxy or a Living Will)?  If you don’t have all of these documents you need to get the ones drafted and signed that you don’t have right now.

Next step – read your documents.  Are the persons you named as your executor or your agent for financial or medical affairs the persons you still want to act in those roles?  If so, you’re on to the next step.  If not (maybe one of these people is not married or close to you anymore), you need a codicil or to re-do these documents.

If you have minor children, re-read who you have named as the guardians of your children.  Would you still want them to act as the guardian?  Do you need to re-write that section of your Will?

Now take a look at your Health Care Directive or Living Will.  Are your instructions to your health care agent still what you would want done until different medical scenarios?  If you have changed your mind, you may need to either change this document or talk to your health care proxy about how you would want them to act differently on your behalf.

Next step – check all of the accounts and documents that have beneficiary clauses.  These include 401(K)s, IRAs, life insurance policies, bank accounts, maybe brokerage accounts.  Do you still want the same beneficiaries (this is very important if you got married or divorced since you last looked at these accounts)?  If you need to change anything, call the bank, brokerage or life insurance company involved and get the proper paperwork.  Complete the necessary paperwork and send it back to the company.  Don’t let it sit on your desk for weeks or months.

Lastly, you should have a complete list of your doctors, accountant, attorney, broker, life insurance agent, etc. and their contact information, in case an emergency requires your loved ones to need to know who to call.  You should also create a list of your online accounts – bank and brokerage accounts for which you don’t get a paper statement anymore, and your Facebook, Pinterest,  Instagram and other social media accounts.  Write down your user names and current passwords.

The first time you do an annual spring cleaning of your estate planning documents, it will take a few hours.  As you repeat this chore every year, you will find it will take maybe a half hour, tops.  It will save your loved ones hours of searching and maybe never finding things you wanted them to have.  Is that worth your time?  I think so, don’t you?





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