As we near the end of the calendar year, many people start to think about taking stock of some of their personal affairs and thinking about planning for the future. Here are a few pointers for you to consider:

  • Do you have a Last Will and related planning documents? When did you last update them or have them reviewed by an attorney? Have you had any life changes that may have impacted your existing documents (a birth, death, marriage, divorce, etc.)? Do you know where the original documents are and who has copies? Some of our prior blog posts have discussed these questions in more detail, including “Why You Need a Will”  and “Estate Planning, Just the Beginning.”
  • Have you acquired real estate since your estate plan was last modified and does the ownership of the real estate match your planning wishes (joint ownership, ownership in a trust, etc.)?
  • Have you opened new bank accounts or retirement accounts and do these accounts and beneficiary designations also match your desired planning goals? Bank accounts held jointly or payable on death pass to the co-owner or beneficiary outside of probate, and retirement accounts have a beneficiary designation. All such designations must be considered as part of your overall estate plan. Your estate plan is not just your Last Will.
  • Have you considered access to your electronic life? In the event of a death or even a temporary disability, does your heir or other appropriate individual have access to your online accounts, email, electronic password vault or another way to access your accounts? Most of us now hardly write a check, paying all of our accounts electronically through our bank account or various credit card sites, and do not even receive paper bills any more. If you are incapacitated, will someone be able to access and track these items which may only be going to your private email? Does someone have your phone password? If you have a valid power of attorney, the holder of the power may eventually be able to access to these items, but you may want to provide the necessary information to an heir or your executor. A recent New York Times article gives an explanation of some options to consider. Specifically regarding Gmail, Google has its own process (Read More Here) that you can follow to allow access after death or after a period of inactivity, and other email services will have similar features.
  • The end of the year is also a typical time for tax planning. While providing tax planning advice is beyond the scope of this blog post, now would be the time to consult a tax planner or accountant while there is still time to make tax planning decisions before year end, or to prepare for 2020.
  • On a more practical level, do you have adequate working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in your home? Smoke detectors are now recommended on every level of your home, inside each bedroom and outside each sleeping area. When was the last time you checked their operation or replaced the batteries?   Smoke alarms should also be replaced every ten years, so if your home is older than that, or you have lived in your home for that long, any older alarms should definitely be replaced. More information is available from the National Fire Protection Association.

The year end is a good time to review these various items to get a fresh start on 2020!

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