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Law Offices of Ronald W. Rutz
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December 8, 2006: New YearŐs Checklist

Q: Do you have a New YearŐs checklist that can be used as an estate planning guideline?

A: Let me share a few thoughts for your consideration. First, if you do not have a Will and/or Durable Powers of Attorney in place, do both as soon as possible. The cost for a standard non-trust Will and four originally signed Durable Powers of Attorney will probably be $300 or less. Yes, you can spend $50 or so on a do-it-yourself Will kit but just consider spending a few dollars more and hire a professional so everything is done correctly.

If you only have one signed Durable Power of Attorney, consider signing several more originals so that if a signed Durable Power of Attorney has to be mailed, or a Power is not returned to the agent after a matter has been handled, there are still originals available for use by your agent in case you are not able to sign additional Durable Powers of Attorney.

If you have both the Will and Power in place, take them out and look at them, even if you have done so recently. Better yet, schedule a review time with your attorney for a "look see" at not only the Will and Powers but to be sure such things as property ownership and beneficiary designations fit with your documents. People who write their own Wills usually are ignorant to other essential elements of estate planning, such as property ownership and payable on death designations. Having an attorney write the estate documents helps insure that other essential areas besides the documents are also properly crafted.

Consider contacting your fiduciaries (personal representatives, trustees, guardians, etc.) to both remind them of their commitment and determine if they still want to act. Also consider whether one or more of them should be replaced given passage of time or changed circumstances.

Either make a list of assets or update the current list, especially beefing up its contents. The more information that is provided, the more certain it is that those who have to settle matters can do so as quickly and as easily as possible.

Keep all important papers and legal ownership documents in one or two key, safe places. (Remember also to share that information with someone.) For bank boxes, add one or more names to the signature card, thereby insuring that the box will not be locked, frozen, or inventoried.

Be sure to make clear if you have purchased pre-paid burial plans and/or plots, including headstones. Often requested music, remembrance rites, even burial instructions, along with the foregoing, are discovered long after implementation has become impossible.

An old legal chestnut observes that the best planned estates are those involving people who had to settle poorly organized affairs. Do not turn your estate into an estate plan motivator or an example used by estate planning speakers during their dog and pony shows.

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