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Estate planning should start long before you need it. It should be part of your overall financial plans, so that it is in place to accomplish your wishes after your death. It should cover not only your wishes, but if it is done properly, it should also provide for an efficient transfer of your assets in the most tax effective way possible.

Wills require careful thought, and legal advice from a competent lawyer, and perhaps your tax accountant. It should not only disperse your wealth according to your wishes, but it should make sure the government doesn’t get more that what it’s legally entitled to.

If you die without a Will, called “Intestate”, then the government dictates the formula for where and how your assets will be dispersed. The rules used for this may be satisfactory in some situations, but may not in fact be what you would have chosen. The extra legal fees and delays in obtaining the documents necessary in this situation can be considerable as well.

While sharing financial information and plans can be difficult, it can be even more stressful and difficult for whoever has to make the decisions if they don’t have the documents they need to deal with your aging, incapacity and death.

Being clear with your close family members about your wishes will ensure they are complied with. This may include health directives, or financial and legal issues. This is not when you want to surprise someone that you have named them your executor. If you have specific requests, make sure the people involved understand what you intend.

It is critical to know where your important documents are kept:

• Will, latest tax return, list of bank and investment accounts, insurance policies and property deeds

• Safety deposit box location

• Names, addresses and birthdates of everyone in your Will

• Names, addresses and telephone numbers for your Executor(s)

• Names, addresses and phone numbers for your doctor, lawyer, accountant, financial planner

• Power of Attorney (so someone can handle financial decisions if you are unable to)

  • New Representation Agreement (for personal and health care, and advanced medical directives) to allow the kind of health care decisions you would like, if you are unable to make these decisions yourself.

• Health care plan details. Are you still covered by a former employer’s plan, or do you have private coverage that funds private or semi-private care, drugs, treatments, etc…

• Funeral arrangements or burial plot arrangements, if they have already been selected and paid for.

This will be an ongoing process that will need to be reviewed and updated regularly as your life changes.

Do you have new children or grandchildren? Have you married or divorced since you last updated your plans? Have you inherited something special, or sold something previously named in your Will?

Have you remembered to update beneficiary designations made in your registered retirement savings plan or registered retirement income fund, insurance policies, or insurance company investments like segregated funds, and guaranteed investments? These do not change automatically.

Remember: as your life changes, so should your plans.

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