Updated: 9/9/2011 3:53 PM ET|
16 things to do before you die
Estate planning will ensure that your loved ones know your wishes -- and that they're cared for in the unlikely event of your death.
While many of us like to think that we're immortal, the only two things in life that are certain are death and taxes, to paraphrase Ben Franklin. Not only is it important that you have a plan in place in the unlikely event of your death, but you must also implement your plan and make sure others know about it and understand your wishes. Lest, as Franklin also said, "by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail."
If you've procrastinated on your estate planning, here's a list of tasks to get you going in the right direction:
Must-do No. 1: Inventory physical items.
Go through your home and make a list of all items worth $100 or more. Examples include the home itself, television sets, jewelry, collectibles, vehicles, guns, computers/laptops, lawn mower, power tools and so on.
Must-do No. 2: Inventory non-physical items.
Add up your non-physical assets. These include things you own on paper or other entitlements, including brokerage accounts, 401k plans, IRA assets, bank accounts, life-insurance policies and all other insurance policies such as long-term care, homeowners, auto, disability, health and so on.
Must-do No. 3: Make a list of credit cards and debts.
Make a list of open credit cards and other debts. This should include auto loans, existing mortgages, home equity lines of credit, open credit cards with and without balances and any other debts. A good practice is to get a free credit report once a year and make sure you close out any credit cards that are no longer in use.
Must-do No. 4: List organizations you belong to and charities you support.
If you belong to organizations such as AARP, The American Legion, veterans' associations, AAA auto club, college alumni groups, etc., you should make a list of these. Include any other charitable organizations that you proudly support or make donations to. In some cases, several of these organizations provide accidental-death life insurance benefits (at no cost) for their members and donors, and your beneficiaries may be eligible. It's also a good idea to let your beneficiaries know which charitable organizations are close to your heart.
Must-do No. 5: Send a copy of your lists of assets to your estate administrator.
When your lists are completed, you should date and sign them and make at least three copies of each. The original should be given to your estate administrator (we'll talk about him or her later), the second copy should be given to your spouse or another loved one and placed in a safe deposit box, and the last copy you should keep for yourself in a safe place.
Must-do No. 6: Review IRA, 401k and other retirement accounts.
Accounts and policies in which you list beneficiary designations pass via "contract" to the person or entity listed at your death. It doesn't matter how you list these accounts and policies in your will or trust, because the beneficiary listing will take precedence. Contact a customer-service representative or your plan administrator for a current listing of your beneficiary selection for each account. Reviewthese accounts to make sure the beneficiaries are listed correctly.
Must-do No. 7: Update life insurance and annuities.
Life insurance and annuities will pass by contract as well, so it's important to contact all life-insurance companies with which you maintain policies to ensure that your beneficiaries are listed correctly.
Must-do No. 8: Assign transfer-on-death designations.
Many accounts, such as bank savings, CD accounts and individual brokerage accounts are unnecessarily probated every day. Probate is a costly and avoidable court process in which assets are distributed according to court instruction. Many of the accounts listed above can be set up with a transfer-on-death feature to avoid the probate process. Contact your custodian or bank to set this up on your accounts.
Must-do No. 9: Select a responsible estate administrator.
Your estate administrator will be responsible for following the rules of your will in the event of your death. It is important that you select an individual who is responsible and in a good mental state to make decisions. Don't immediately assume that your spouse is the best choice. Think about all qualified individuals and how emotions related to your death will affect this person's decision-making ability.
Must-do No. 10: Create a will.
Everyone over the age of 18 should have a will. It is the rule book for distributing your assets, and it could prevent havoc among your heirs. Wills are fairly inexpensive documents to draft. Most attorneys can help you with one for less than $1,000. If that's too rich for your blood, there are several good will-making software packages available online. Just make sure that you always sign and date your will, have two witnesses sign it and obtain a notarization on the final draft.
Must-do No. 11: Review and update your documents.
You should review your will for updates at least once every two years and after any major life-changing events (such as marriage, divorce or birth of child). Life is constantly changing, and your inventory list is likely to change from year to year, too.
Must-do No. 12: Send copies of your will to your estate administrator.
Once your will is finalized, signed, witnessed and notarized, you'll want to make sure that your estate administrator gets a copy. You should also keep a copy in a safe-deposit box and another in a safe place at home.
Must-do No. 13: Visit a financial planner or estate attorney.
While you may think that you've covered all avenues, it's always a good idea to have a full investment and insurance plan done at least once every five years. If you're not looking to spend the money for professional help, there are several good books out there on getting your financial plan and estate in check. As you get older, life throws new curveballs at you, such as considerations for long-term care insurance and protecting your estate from a large tax bill or lengthy court processes. Tips like having an emergency medical contact card in your purse or wallet are little things that many people never think of.
Must-do No. 14: Initiate important estate-plan documents.
Procrastination is the biggest enemy of estate planning. While none of us likes to think about dying, the fact of the matter is that improper or no planning can lead to family disputes, assets going into the wrong hands, long court litigations and huge amounts of dollars in federal tax. At minimum, you should create a will, power of attorney, health care surrogate, trusts and living will, and assign guardianship for your kids and pets. Also make sure that all concerned individuals have copies of these documents.
Must-do No. 15: Simplify your life.
If you've changed jobs over the years, it's likely you have several 401k-type retirement plans still open with past employers or maybe even several different IRA accounts. While this normally won't create a big problem while you're alive (except lots of additional paperwork and account management), you may want to consider consolidating these accounts into one individual IRA account to take advantage of better investment choices, lower costs, a larger selection of investments, more control and less paperwork/easier management when assets are consolidated.
Must-do No. 16: Take advantage of college funding accounts.
The 529 plan is a unique tax-advantaged investment account for college savings. In addition, most universities do not consider 529 plans in the financial aid/scholarship calculation if a grandparent is listed as the custodian. The really nice feature is that growth and withdrawals from the account (if used for "qualified" education expenses) are tax-free.
Now you have the ammunition to get a pretty good jump-start on reviewing your overall financial and estate picture; the rest is up to you. While you're sitting around the house watching your favorite sports team or television show, pull out a tablet or laptop and start making your lists. You'll be surprised how much "stuff" you've accumulated over the years. You'll also find that your inventory and debts lists will come in handy for other things, such as homeowners insurance and getting a firm grip on your expenses.
This article was reported by Steven Merkel for Investopedia.
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All of these ideas are great to think about and plan for, but one of the better options not even mentioned is to pre-plan the funeral and its costs. By setting up a pre-need plan, the costs of funerals that are rising are stopped (meaning the price you pay today for a funeral is guaranteed for how ever many years down the road when you do pass away.) This money is put away safely into a pre-need insurance policy that even earns as much or more than an IRA or other savings options.
The biggest plus is the emotional savings this provides to the family of the deceased by removing the decision-making burden from the family. Imagine a funeral where all the family has to do is gather to decide a date and time for the funeral and what exactly they want printed in the obituary. No more stress and agony and frustration with the whole process when you are already grieving your loved one. I'm sure many of you know what I am talking about and have experienced one of these scenarios. Just something else to consider that will make a difference for many people in years to come.
I totally agree with the person who suggested funeral pre-planning. Too often you wind up planning a loved one's funeral in a state of shock and grief and wind up spending so much more than you (or they) would have wanted to. Get this awkward expense out of the way while you're able to and save your family a lot of grief and money later. You never know...
Another thing I did was toss old diaries, love letters from old boyfriends, etc. Anything you wouldn't want someone cleaning out your stuff to find that could potentially cause pain - that is. I had no need for it anymore. It was all in my memories anyway.
To Christine Carter.....
Did you have English and grammar when you were in school? Spelling? I dislike trying to read the so called chat speak. If you are trying to communicate with others, please use correct English, spelling and make sure your responding to the topic. As you see, in this case, I am not. I read the comments and find it difficult to read and understand comments that have such glaring errors and wonder why you went off topic.
retirement is a long forgotten word for workaholics but it would be best to learn how to let tomorrow worry itself. as for me i came without now i hope go without, but lo our children
know not tomorrow but usually a dim picture of the future we bring. if you saved you are brave.
If I can fix your spelling, your main points are:
-Cars are less efficient than horses (irrelevant and untrue)
-Dad died of cancer (EXTREMELY irrelevant)
-People don't care about the world (k)
-I hope the world ends (kay...)
-I want to live forever (not too good of a transition from "I hope everyone dies")
-Death happens (orly?)
It's the end of days & the beginning of a new world
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Better to contact The Lord in order to get some insurance to keep your **** out of hell?
If your bucket list is a bunch of estate planning line-items, you're already dead of boredom and just haven't noticed yet.
Spend less time worrying about a petty thing like money and more time living. If you live your life right you should run out of cash at the exact moment you die, and will be just as devoid of regrets and anxieties as you are of inheritance to pass on to the ungrateful brats who have been counting your remaining days.
The future is a myth. Live for today, because that's all you have - one today after another, and a tomorrow which never comes.
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