Q: Ron, we have had a good review session. Why donÕt you write a column about what we just went over? Others could benefit.
A: By golly, that is a good idea! Hope you read the column and let me know what you think.
Right after the first of the year (following the Holidays and the taking down of the Christmas lights but before the mad scramble to do taxes), a lot of people calendar a day to just review their legal/life documents.
I would suggest initially taking out the Will, the Durable Powers of Attorney, and the Living Will and actually reading the important provisions (skipping the boilerplate) of each document, even if you did so in the prior year. It is amazing how much things change in twelve short months. If something is now different (or you do not understand what you are looking at), schedule an appointment (hopefully at not cost) with your attorney.
In going over things, note the following problem areas: not finding the original of the Will (I would recommend that you and not the attorney keep the original.); not being able to remember where each signed copy of the Durable Powers of Attorney is located or having a conditional Durable Power of Attorney; and not having in your possession an original Living Will.
Be sure that you have updated your asset and fiduciary (attorney, CPA, financial advisor, etc.) list. This summary often becomes the critical starting point for your Personal Representative if the unexpected in fact happens in the upcoming year. Double check to see that your estate planÕs property ownership and beneficiary designations are still being followed as your attorney initially interlaced them with your estate documents. Often others will advise changes such as joint tenancy, or name beneficiaries where none were intended or originally wanted (beware of Banks gratuitously adding survivorship provisions), or change designations, all without fitting those changes into the overall estate plan and thereby causing a major tear in the estate tapestry.
Because documents are used during the course of the year, they tend to become scattered and often are not replaced in their proper place after use. Be sure all important papers are still together so your personal representative or agent does not have to play "hide and go seek" to find them.
Remember that it does no good to have an updated list and all documents organized if no one knows where you keep things or is unable to access them. So be sure that the safe combination, the key to the strong box, or access to a safe deposit box, whichever you use, is available and known. If you are a computer type, do run and keep hard copies and let someone know your passwords, access codes, I.D.Õs, etc.
Some advisors suggest to throwing away legal papers such as old real estate documents of previously owned properties or tax records after five or seven or ten years. Having practiced for almost 35 years, I subscribe to the "pack rat" school of thought Š you keep everything. Sometime over coffee I can relate "war stories" illustrating my reasons.
I recommend doing things like making funeral arrangements in advance and even obtaining burial plots. Morbid? Not for someone in his or her sixties or seventies wanting things to go as smoothly as possible.
In this day and age of second, third, and even fourth marriages, with potential beneficiaries at each level, it is imperative that the proper legal steps have been implemented. Be sure to review any such complications again with your attorney.
So maintain your legal life plan and keep your important professional advisors in the loop. Once set up, the annual review will probably only mean the commitment of a couple of hours each year. Otherwise, all that planning can become overweighted, winded, and lumpy instead of a "lean, mean, estate planning machine."
I want to wish everyone a fantastic 2005 and may you live and enjoy each day as if it were your last. We never know when it might be.