(858) 432-3923 tara@cheeverlaw.com
Do You Really Need a Trust?

Do You Really Need a Trust?

Although many people equate “estate planning” with having a will, there are many advantages to having a trust rather than a will as the centerpiece of your estate plan. While there are other estate planning tools (such as joint tenancy, transfer on death, beneficiary designations, to name a few), only a trust provides comprehensive management of your property in the event you can’t make financial decisions for yourself (commonly called legal incapacity) or after your death.  Do you really need a trust?

One of the primary advantages of having a trust is that it provides the ability to bypass the publicity, time, and expense of probate. Probate is the legal process by which a court decides the rightful heirs and distribution of assets of a deceased through the administration of the estate. This process can easily cost thousands of dollars and take more than a year to resolve. Or course, not all assets are subject to probate. Some exemptions include jointly owned assets with rights of survivorship as well as assets with designated beneficiaries (such as life insurance, annuities, and retirement accounts) and payable upon death or transfer on death accounts. But joint tenancy and designating beneficiaries don’t provide the ability for someone you trust to manage your property if you’re unable to do so, so they are an incomplete solution. And having a will does not avoid probate.

Of note, if your probate estate is small enough – or it is going to a surviving spouse or domestic partner – you may qualify for a simplified probate process in your state, although this is highly dependent on the state where you live and own property. In general, if your assets are worth $150,000 or more, you will likely not qualify for simplified probate and should strongly consider creating a trust. Considering the cost of probate should also be a factor in your estate planning as creating a trust can save you both time and money in the long run. Moreover, if you own property in another state or country, the probate process will be even more complicated because your family may face multiple probate cases after your death, one in each state where you owned property – even if you have a will. Beyond the cost and time of probate, this court proceeding that includes your financial life and last wishes is public record. A trust, on the other hand, creates privacy for your personal matters as your heirs would not be made aware of the distribution of your assets knowledge of which may cause conflicts or even legal challenges.

Another common reason to create a trust is to provide ongoing financial support for a child or another loved one who may not ever be able to manage these assets on their own. Through a trust, you can designate someone to manage the assets and distribute them to your heirs under the terms you provide. Giving an inheritance to an heir directly and all at once may have unanticipated ancillary effects, such as disqualifying them from receiving some form of government benefits, enabling and funding an addiction, or encouraging irresponsible behavior that you don’t find desirable. A trust can also come with conditions that must be met for the person to receive the benefit of the gift. Furthermore, if you ever become incapacitated your successor trustee – the person you name in the document to take over after you pass away – can step in and manage the trust’s assets, helping you avoid a guardianship or conservatorship (sometimes called “living” probate). This protection can be essential in an emergency or in the event you succumb to a serious, chronic illness. Unlike a will, a trust can protect against court interference or control while you are alive and after your death.

Trusts are not simply just about avoiding probate. Creating a trust can give you privacy, provide ongoing financial support for loved ones, and protect you and your property if you are unable to manage your own assets. Simply put, the creation of a trust puts you in the driver’s seat when it comes to your assets and your wishes as opposed to leaving this critical life decision to others, such as a judge. To learn more about trusts – and estate planning in general, including which type of plan best fits your needs – contact me today.

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Estate Planning: 3 Reasons We Run the Other Way

Estate Planning: 3 Reasons We Run the Other Way

I completely understand that it feels hard to get around to completing your estate planning; it sounds about as fun as getting a root canal. With that said, I also understand that most people want to make sure that their loved ones are protected and will receive their hard-earned assets – regardless of whether they have $50,000 or several million.

Don’t let these common roadblocks stop you from protecting yourself and your family:

  1. Who Wants to Talk About Death? Discussions of death, dying, and illness – money and family – wills and trusts – make many folks uncomfortable. Of course, that’s normal, but don’t let a few minutes of feeling uncomfortable stop you from taking care of yourself and your loved ones.
  2. This Isn’t a Good Time. Everyone is busy. I understand that you may not have a lot of downtime, but there’s never going to be a better time. It does not take too much time to complete your planning. Call my office, get on the calendar, and get it done.
  3. It’s confusing. Estate planning is documented in legal documents, your finances are discussed, and the law is analyzed. It’s very common feel uncomfortable since this is new to you. If that’s what you are thinking, you are not I will translate complex legal concepts into everyday layman’s terms for you so you will not be confused or overwhelmed.

The truth is that estate planning isn’t really that bad. With my assistance, your estate planning will be completed smoothly. I will chat with you about your goals and concerns, analyze your family and financial situation, and work with you to come up with a solid plan. You provide the information, which I always keep confidential, and I’ll take care of everything else – taking the burden off of you. Email me at Tara@Cheeverlaw.com or call me at (858) 432-3923. I look forward to serving you!

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How to Build Freedom From Court Interference Into Your Life Planning

How to Build Freedom From Court Interference Into Your Life Planning

By deciding not to complete any planning for your life and eventual death, it might be because you are too busy, do not understand the importance of such planning or think that you can do it later. You may think that it is not a big deal to have the court involved in all of your personal affairs. Perhaps you don’t know the disadvantages of court interference or have first-hand experience of what can happen in the event of incapacity or death of a family member without a properly drafted and comprehensive legal life planning “aka estate planning.”

However, if you feel that the matters of your affairs should be kept private, prefer that someone you designated make decisions in the event of your inability without court interference, and that your assets should be distributed according to your wishes privately without court fees, you are in luck. Fortunately, all it takes is a proactive approach and a small investment. By acting now, you will save an enormous amount of stress and money and give you the peace of mind to live the life you desire knowing you have security for the future.

With that said, let’s dive in to the basics of Government Interference in the event of incapacity and at death. The two of the most common situations in which the court becomes involved in your estate are conservatorship/guardianship and probate:

Guardianship and Conservatorship

A person is declared incapacitated if they are unable to effectively handle their property or financial affairs documents. In their estate plan they can direct a trusted person to carry out their wishes during such time of incapacity.   So what happens if no such documents have been drafted? Then their business becomes the government’s business, too. A court proceeding called guardianship or conservatorship (also known as “living probate”) will be held to appoint guardians and conservators to manage the affairs of the incapacitated person. Then, the guardian/conservator may need to post a bond and then comply with all of the demanding court requirements. Most importantly, the decisions of the guardian/conservator may be contrary to what you had ultimately wanted for yourself and your finances.

Probate 

When an estate goes through probate, the court oversees the gathering of the probate assets, payment of any outstanding debts, determining whether a will is valid, and who the deceased’s heirs are. The proceedings ultimately determine who should receive the assets that are left after payment of debts, taxes, and costs. While this may sound straight-forward, it generally is not – to the contrary, it is often time-consuming and expensive. Also, the process of probate of public record and done for the benefit of creditors by ensuring the estate has paid its debts prior to any distributions to beneficiaries, should there be any money left after creditors are paid. If someone had a will, the Executor named may need to post Bond, which requires good credit. If that person does not have a good credit history, the Judge may not allow that person to serve and will appoint a Personal Representative, who could be a stranger to the decedent and could make decisions that are contrary to your wishes.

Staying out of Court

Probate avoidance – In order to avoid guardianship, conservatorship, and probate, you can work with me to keep your affairs out of court entirely.

  1. Powers of attorney

Agents or attorneys-in-fact are the individuals or entities you appoint to make decisions for you if you are unable due to incapacity. You designate agents or attorneys-in-fact in a document known as a Power of Attorney. A Durable Power of Attorney is a document that continues in validity after the incapacity of the maker of the document (i.e. “durable” against incapacity). Since a Durable Power of Attorney continues in validity, a Durable Power of Attorney can help bypass the need for court-appointed guardianship or conservatorship because the Agent has been nominated to make decisions, eliminating the need for a Judge.

  1. Trusts

Trusts are agreements that hold some or all of your assets. An individual or a corporate entity that you designate as your Successor Trustee will manage the assets inside of your Trust if and when you become incapacitated. Unlike wills, Trusts do not go through probate at your death because the agreement has spelled out exactly what will happen upon your death, bypassing the need for a Probate proceeding. There are several ways to structure a Living Trust and I can help you decide exactly how your Trust will be structured and how your estate will be planned.

By setting up and completely funding a Revocable Living Trust, you can accomplish two important things. First, you can rest assured that your assets will be distributed to your chosen beneficiaries and won’t go through probate upon your death. Second, you also retain the ability to change or cancel the arrangement during your lifetime enabling you to adjust your plan as your financial or family circumstances change.

Make sure your estate plan is solid and complete

Deciding on appropriate powers of attorney and drafting a Revocable Living Trust are just two of the many steps we can take together to keep your affairs free from court interference at incapacity and at death. With a solid estate plan put into place with my help, you can take comfort knowing that everything you’ve worked so hard to build and maintain will be passed along to only the people who matter most. Give me a call today to learn more about keeping your estate plan private and out of the Court’s hands.

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Not Just Death and Taxes: 4 Essential Legal Documents You Need for Incapacity Planning

Not Just Death and Taxes: 4 Essential Legal Documents You Need for Incapacity Planning

Comprehensive estate planning is more than your legacy after death, avoiding probate, and saving on taxes, it must contain incapacity planning.  A proper estate plan includes a plan in place to manage your affairs if you become incapacitated during your life and can no longer make decisions for yourself.

What happens without an incapacity plan?

Without comprehensive incapacity planning in place, your family will have to go to court to get a judge to appoint a guardian or conservator to take control of your assets and health care decisions. This guardian or conservator will make all personal and medical decisions on your behalf as part of a court-supervised guardianship or conservatorship. Until you regain capacity or die, you and your loved ones will be faced with an expensive and time-consuming guardianship or conservatorship proceeding. There are two dimensions to decision making that need to be considered: financial decisions and healthcare decisions.

  • Finances during incapacity

If you are incapacitated, you are legally unable to make financial, investment, or tax decisions for yourself. Of course, bills still need to be paid, tax returns still need to be filed, and investments still need to be managed.

  • Healthcare during incapacity

If you become legally incapacitated, you won’t be able to make healthcare decisions for yourself. Because of patient privacy laws, your loved ones may even be denied access to medical information during a crisis and end up in court fighting over what medical treatment you should, or should not, receive (like Terri Schiavo’s husband and parents did, for 15 years).

You must have these four essential legal documents in place before becoming incapacitated so that your family is empowered to make decisions for you:

  1. Financial power of attorney: This legal document gives your agent the authority to pay bills, make financial decisions, manage investments, file tax returns, mortgage and sell real estate, and address other financial matters that are described in the document.
    • Financial Powers of Attorney come in two forms: “durable” and “springing.” A durable power of attorney goes into effect as soon as it is signed, while a springing power of attorney only goes into effect after you have been declared mentally incapacitated. There are advantages and disadvantages to each type, and we can help you decide which is best for your situation.
  1. Revocable living trust: This legal document has three parties to it: the person who creates the trust (you might see this written as “trustor,” “grantor,” or “settlor” — they all mean the same thing); the person who legally owns and manages the assets transferred into the trust (the “trustee”); and the person who benefits from the assets transferred into the trust (the “beneficiary”). In the typical situation, you will be the trustor, the trustee, and the beneficiary of your own revocable living trust.
    • If you ever become incapacitated, your designated successor trustee will step in to manage the trust assets for your benefit. Since the trust controls how your property is used, you can specify how your assets are to be used if you become incapacitated (for example, you can authorize the trustee to continue to make gifts or pay tuition for your grandchildren).
  2. Advance Health Care Directive: This legal document, sometimes referred to as a healthcare power of attorney, gives your agent the authority to make healthcare decisions and end of life care if you become incapacitated.
  3. HIPAA authorization: This legal document gives your doctor authority to disclose medical information to an agent selected by you. This is important because health privacy laws may make it very difficult for your agents or family to learn about your condition without this release.

Is your incapacity planning up to date?

Once you get all of these legal documents for your incapacity plan in place, you cannot simply stick them in a drawer and forget about them. Instead, your incapacity plan must be reviewed and updated periodically and when certain life events occur such as moving to a new state or going through a divorce. If you keep your incapacity plan up to date and make the documents available to your loved ones and trusted helpers, it should work the way you expect it to if needed.

Should you have any questions or concerns about your incapacity plan, click here. I look forward to hearing from you!

Estate Planning for Women

Estate Planning for Women

While everyone is in need of estate planning, women especially need to understand estate planning and have their own plan in place. The following describes why having a estate planning portfolio, which includes a Trust, Will, Durable Power of Attorney and healthcare documentation is so important for women:

Incapacity. On average women live longer than men, which means there is an increased need to plan for physical and/or mental incapacity. When long-term care insurance is purchased in advance it can help cover the costs of incapacity and can even help women remain in their homes should that be their wish. Planning ahead prevents the court from taking control of finances and of personal care at incapacity – a court action called a Conservatorship or “Living Probate.” Incapacity planning includes having a properly drafted General Durable Powers of Attorney naming a trustworthy person to act as Agent in the event of incapacity. Additionally, healthcare documents, including an Advance Health Care Directive and HIPAA release are crucial. A properly drafted Revocable Living Trust will provide excellent protection for assets at incapacity and contains dispositive instructions for administering the estate after death.

Children, Grandchildren, Parents and Pets. Regardless of wealth, estate planning is so important because women raising minor children need to name a guardian in their Will. If no guardian is named, a judge may have to decide who will raise them, which may be contrary to your wishes. Provisions need to be included for children, parents or relative with special needs, pets and anyone that is dependent on you for support. If one of the beneficiaries has special needs, additional planning is necessary and the need for a Special Needs Trust can provide the care they need without jeopardizing government benefits they are otherwise entitled to. A gifting program or a trust can provide for grandchildren and future generations.

Charitable Causes. Women who want to leave a legacy by donating to a favorite charitable, religious or educational organization must complete an estate plan. Without a valid Trust and Will in place, assets will be distributed by the California Probate Code. A charity will not be considered because a charity is not an heir. With proper planning in place proceeds from a life insurance policy can be used to fund various types of charitable giving at your death.

Protecting a Business and Other Assets. Professional women in law, real estate and medicine must be concerned about limiting their liability and protecting their assets from lawsuits. Women who are business owners need to plan for what will happen to their business in the event of incapacity or retirement and death. Due to these issues, asset protection planning and business succession planning can and should be included in the estate planning process.

Married Women. While not always the case, it is common for woman in a traditional marriage to marry a husband who is older, which means they are more likely to become widowed. Without proper estate planning while married, many will see their standard of living reduced during their retirement years. Those in second marriages have an increased need for estate planning, which may include providing for the surviving spouse while preserving distributions to their children from a previous marriage. Without proper estate planning, children from a previous marriage may become disinherited. Also, because most married women survive their husbands, they often have final say over who will ultimately receive the couple’s assets. Women must take an active role in the couple’s estate planning in order to understand the process and be prepared. If there was no participation in the planning process, the widow will likely be confused and uncertain; however, if she completed her planning and/or was involved during the planning during marriage, she will easily understand it and feel empowered.

Unmarried Women. Without a proper estate plan in place at death, her estate will end up in the Probate Court for California law to be applied. Persons who you may have wanted to provide for at death, including friends, charities and unmarried partners will not be among your heirs. For woman who are divorced or separated, there is an important need to update documents (including beneficiary designations) as soon as possible to prevent your ex-spouse from making life and death decisions for you or inheriting your assets.

Should you have questions regarding the need for estate planning and how these issues may affect you, please give my office a call to schedule your Life and Legacy Planning Session.  Thank you!

Two More Common Estate Planning Mistakes

Two More Common Estate Planning Mistakes

If you haven’t already, read Part 1 of this series On Common Estate Planning Mistakes

In our last post, we discussed why having a complete, up-to-date estate plan is so important by addressing two common estate planning mistakes – not having a plan and not naming guardians for minor children.  Here, we discuss two more mistakes and misconceptions:

– Relying on joint ownership. Many older people add an adult child to the title of their assets (especially their home), often to avoid probate. This can create all kinds of problems. When you add a co-owner, you lose control. Jointly owned assets are now exposed to the co-owner’s creditors, divorce proceedings and possible misuse of the assets, and the co-owner must agree to all business transactions. In addition, there could be gift and/or income tax issues. Also, if you have more than one child and only name one to be co-owner with you, fluctuating values could cause your children to receive unbalanced/unintended inheritances. A much better option would be to put your assets into a Trust drafted by an experienced Estate Planning Attorney.

– Not planning for incapacity. If someone cannot conduct business due to mental or physical incapacity only a court appointee can sign for this person—even if a valid Will exists because a Will only goes into effect after death. The court usually stays involved until the person recovers or dies and the court, not the family, will control how their assets are used to provide for their care. The process, often described as a “living probate” is public and can become expensive, embarrassing, time consuming and difficult to end. The goal is to avoid this government intervention.

Giving someone power of attorney as a way to avoid the court process (without having a Trust in place) can be risky because that person can do anything they want with your assets with no real restrictions. For this reason, a Living Trust is often preferred for incapacity planning. With a Trust, the person(s) you choose to act for you can do so without court interference, yet they are held to a higher standard as a Trustee. If they misuse their power, they can be held accountable.

Someone also needs to be given the power to make health care decisions for you (including life and death decisions) if you are unable to make them for yourself. Without a designated health care agent, you could be kept alive by artificial means for an indefinite period of time. (Remember Terri Schiavo? Terri’s story and information about the Terri Schiavo Foundation can be found at http://www.terrisfight.org/). The exorbitant costs of long term care, most of which are not covered by health insurance or Medicare, must also be part of incapacity planning. Consider long-term care insurance to protect your assets in addition to having the proper estate planning documents in place.

Continue on to read Part 3 of this series. 

Estate Planning Mistakes to Avoid

Estate Planning Mistakes to Avoid

From time to time, it’s good to review why having a complete, up-to-date estate plan is so important. In addition to confirming our own actions, it can provide us with valuable information to pass along to friends and family who need estate planning. Here we discuss two common mistakes:

  1. Not having a plan. Every state has laws for distributing the property of someone who dies without an estate plan—but not very many people would be pleased with the results. This process is called probate. By having a plan in place, your family will be able to avoid probate when you pass away. State laws vary, but generally they leave a percentage of the deceased’s assets to family members. Non-family members will not receive any assets so it is crucial for same-sex partners and non-married partners to have a plan in place if it is your intention to provide for a partner. It is common for the surviving spouse and children to each receive a share during a probate proceeding, which often means the surviving spouse will not have enough money to live on. In addition, probate fees and costs diminish the estate. If the children are minors, the court will control their inheritances until they reach legal age (usually 18), at which time they will receive the full amount. This may be contrary to what parents prefer, who may want to have some restrictions on their inheritance until they are more mature. By having a plan in place, you make the decisions and keep your affairs private by avoiding government intervention and government involvement.
  2. Not naming a guardian for minor children. A guardian for minor children can only be named through a Will. If the parents have not done this, and both die before the children reach legal age, the court will have to name someone to raise them without knowing whom the parents would have chosen. Equally tragic would be that the minor children might end up in protective custody while the court gets around to hearing the case to nominate a guardian. By seeing me, a San Diego Estate Planning lawyer, you can have the peace of mind knowing an estate plan is in place, which includes naming a guardian, for the short term and long term, for your minor children.

Continue to read Part 2 Of This Series

Common Estate Planning Myths . . . Debunked

Common Estate Planning Myths . . . Debunked

Estate planning.  You’ve heard the phrase, but do you know what it is?  You probably have it on your list of things you should do, but you may not think it’s a priority. . . perhaps because of some of the following common estate planning myths and misconceptions.

Myth #1 – Estate planning is only for the wealthy.  There are many levels of estate planning, beginning at its most basic and continuing upward with more advanced planning as you move through different financial stages.  Regardless of whether you have a multi-million dollar estate or something more modest, you need to take steps to ensure your assets are distributed to your heirs according to your wishes.  Everyone should have a basic estate plan, which consists of a Will, Trust, Advance Health Care Directive and Durable
Power of Attorney.

Myth #2 – Only the elderly need to consider planning.  You can’t know what your future holds, so it’s important to have an estate plan in place before your “golden years,” in the event you become incapacitated or die prematurely.  If you’re unable to see to your own affairs, due to a serious accident or other health condition, a Durable Power of Attorney provides a trusted advocate with the authority to carry out your stated wishes.  Similarly, having an Advance Health Care Directive allows you to specify your wishes with respect to healthcare and life-saving treatment.  These circumstances aren’t limited to the elderly—and neither is passing away—so it makes sense for everyone to have a plan in place to provide direction to their heirs.

Myth #3 – You only need a will.  While having a will is important, it’s just one of the four corners of a basic estate plan.  If you lack the other three, your estate will have to go through probate upon your death (no trust), and your heirs won’t know what you want them to do in the event that you’re incapacitated (no Durable Power of Attorney) or facing a decision regarding life-saving treatment (no Advance Health Care Directive).  Your will needs to be supplemented with these other important vehicles.

Myth #4 – Estate planning is a one-time event.  Putting an estate plan in place is an important first step, but it must be examined and possibly changed as time passes.  You may experience life changes that cause you to revisit earlier decisions, e.g., divorce, financial windfalls or a death in the family, and your plan may also need modification based on new legislation.  It’s a good idea to review your estate plan on a regular basis to ensure it reflects your current wishes and situation.

Myth #5 – It doesn’t matter who I name as a fiduciary/successor trustee.  Au contraire, the person who fills this role has vital responsibilities with respect to your estate, so the decision on who’s best suited for it shouldn’t be made lightly.  Many people make arbitrary choices (often a spouse or child), without stopping to think about whether that person has the time and expertise required to do the job.  Your fiduciary/successor trustee should be someone you trust who has experience dealing with estate issues. . .and it doesn’t have to be a family member.  In many cases, you may be better served having a professional fiduciary.

I hope this information has debunked some of the myths and misconceptions that surround the estate planning profession.  If you don’t have a plan in place, what are you waiting for?  If you do, when’s the last time you reviewed it?

Top 10 Reasons for Estate Planning

Top 10 Reasons for Estate Planning

There are many reasons why estate planning is important for everyone, regardless of age. With the proper plan in place, you can:

1.   Protect your Loved Ones. 
Only with proper planning can you be assured that your loved ones will not be subjected to unexpected disasters due to your failure to plan.

2.  Avoid Probate. 
Without a trust, your estate will be supervised by the Probate Court and there are high legal fees associated with court control.  A Trust avoids the expensive, lengthy, emotionally draining and public probate process.

3.  Guardians for Minor Children.  
Who do you choose to raise your children if you pass prematurely? It is crucial that you name a legal guardian in your will so YOU make the decision about who will care for your children.

4.  Manage Affairs in the Event of Incapacity.
In the event that you are unable to make decisions for yourself, who will make those decisions on your behalf?  By creating a durable power of attorney and an advanced healthcare directive can you be sure that your financial and personal affairs will be handled according to your instruction.

5.  Business Planning.  
If you own a business, proper planning can ensure that the business survives and continues on in accordance with your plan.

6.  Minimize or Eliminate Estate Taxes. 
You can prevent your assets from being subject to estate tax, which will allow more of your estate to be enjoyed by your loved ones.

7.  Charitable Giving. 
You can make gifts to your favorite charity or other worthwhile causes, while potentially getting income and estate tax benefits.

8.  Provide for Spouse.  
Without a proper plan, your spouse or partner may not receive the property you intended to provide.  For example, unknowingly holding property in joint ownership with someone other than your designated recipient may have undesired results down the road.

9.  Establishing Trusts for Minor Children. 
A good plan can preserve your assets for your children’s use and prevent those inherited assets from being wasted or lost by careless habits and harmful addictions.

10.  Designate Beneficiaries. 
By creating an estate plan you have wide latitude to choose who will receive your estate, what they will receive and when they will receive it.  You may distribute among your children equally or you may choose to eliminate one or all of them.  You have complete control over your estate, rather than allowing the legal system to do it for you.

8 Estate Planning Things to Do before you Travel

8 Estate Planning Things to Do before you Travel

Before any trip, most of us create a “to-do list” of things we have put off and want to take care of before we leave. Here is a checklist of estate planning things to do before you take your next trip. Taking care of these will help you travel with peace of mind, knowing that if you don’t return due to serious illness or death, you have made things much easier for those you love.

1. Have your estate planning done. If you have been procrastinating about your estate planning, use your next trip as your deadline to finally get this done. Be sure to allow adequate time to get your estate plan completed in advance of your trip.

2. Review and update your existing estate plan. Revisions should be made any time there are changes in family (birth, death, marriage, divorce, remarriage), finances, tax laws, or if a trustee or executor can no longer serve. Again, be sure to allow enough time to have the changes made.

3. Review titles and beneficiary designations. If you have a living trust and did not finish changing titles and/or beneficiary designations, now is the time to do so. If a beneficiary has died or if you are divorced, change these immediately. If a beneficiary is incapacitated or a minor, set up a trust for this person and name the trust as beneficiary to prevent the court from taking control of the proceeds.

4. Review your plan for minor children. If you haven’t named a guardian who is able and willing to serve and something happens to you, the court will decide who will raise your kids without your input. If you have named a guardian, consider if this person is still the best choice. Name a back-up in case your first choice cannot serve. Select someone responsible to manage the inheritance.

5. Secure or review incapacity documents. Everyone over the age of 18 needs to have these: 1) Durable Power of Attorney for Heath Care, which gives another person legal authority to make health care decisions (including life and death decisions) for you if you are unable to make them for yourself; and 2) HIPPA Authorizations, which give written consent for doctors to discuss your medical situation with others, including family members.

6. Review your insurance. Check the amount of your life insurance coverage and see if it still meets your family’s needs. Consider getting long-term care insurance to help pay for the costs of long-term care (and preserve your assets for your family) in the event you and/or your spouse should need it due to illness or injury.

7. Organize your accounts and documents. It used to be that we could just point to a file cabinet and say everything was “in there.” But now so much is done online that there may not even be a paper trail. Make a list of ALL of your accounts, where they are located, and the user names and passwords, then review and update it before each trip. Print a hard copy in case your computer is stolen or crashes and let someone you trust know where to find it. Clean up your computer desktop and put your financial and other important files where they can be easily found. Make a back-up copy in case your computer is stolen or crashes, and let someone know where to find it. Be sure to include on your master list any passwords that might be needed to access your computer and files.

8. Talk to your children about your plan. You don’t have to show them financial statements, but you can discuss in general terms what you are planning and why, especially when any changes are made. The more they understand your plan, the more likely they are to accept it—and that will help to avoid discord after you are gone.