With a busy family life and/or professional life, it’s easy
to overlook the essential steps of estate planning. Fortunately
the most common mistakes are mistakes of omission. Here’s how
to avoid them.

Inventory your assets.

Make a complete inventory of your assets: real estate,
investments, bank accounts, insurance policies, annuities
and retirement plans. The inventory should identify each
asset, its value, and the name or names on the title. For
assets that pass by beneficiary designation, (life insurance
policies, annuities, retirement plans, pay-on-death
accounts)list the primary and secondary beneficiaries.

Update titles and beneficiary designations.

The inventory will identify if any assets are titled
incorrectly. For example, if your spouse owned the house
before your marriage, was your name added to the deed? If
the inventory reveals that any asset is titled incorrectly,
take the necessary steps to correct the title.

Just as the inventory identifies if any assets are titled
incorrectly, it also identifies any beneficiary designations
that are incomplete or out-of-date. For example, you may have
neglected to name a secondary beneficiary for an IRA, 401k
plan or annuity. Or you may have forgotten to remove a former
spouse as beneficiary of an IRA or life insurance policy.
Take corrective action as necessary.

Name guardians for minor children.

It is critical that you choose who you want as guardian for
your children if you and their father die while the children
are minors. If you have not chosen a guardian, the court will
make the choice and the court might not choose the right
person. By naming a guardian you inform the court and family
members of your choice thereby eliminating guesswork, error
and competition among family members. You name a guardian
in your will.

Name financial and medical powers of attorney and write a
living will.

A financial power of attorney appoints a trusted person to
manage your finances if you become physically or mentally
unable to manage them yourself. A medical power of attorney
appoints a trusted person to make medical decisions for you
if you are incapable of making them. A living
will tells your family, your doctor and other medical
personnel that you do or do not want to be kept alive by
artificial means. You must be competent to sign these

A Will does NOT avoid Probate.

Assets that pass by will are transferred to the intended
recipients through probate court. Most people believe that
if they have a will they have avoided probate. But it’s just
the opposite; probate is required for assets passing by will.
Probate is also required, in most circumstances, if you die
without a will.

Keep your documents in a place that’s safe AND accessible to
the person who will manage your affairs at your disability
or death.

Once you have your financial and legal documents in order,
store them in a safe place, inform a trusted family member of
that safe place, and make certain that he or she can access the
documents at your disability or death.

Stop procrastinating.

As in most important undertakings the first step is ALWAYS
the most difficult. But once you get started, everything
quickly falls into place. Your reward will be the peace of
mind that comes from knowing that your family’s financial
and legal affairs are in order and up-to-date. Stop
procrastinating and take action now!

Ó Julie A. Calligaro 2007-All Rights Reserved

Julie A. Calligaro is probate and estate planning attorney with 25 years of experience and the author of Arranging Your Financial And Legal Affairs and The Widow’s Resource.
Demery Publishing
20600 Eureka Ste 900
Taylor, MI 48180
734 283 1509
Fax 734 246 8635

Author's Bio: 

Julie A. Calligaro is probate and estate planning attorney with 25 years of experience and the author of Arranging Your Financial And Legal Affairs and The Widow’s Resource.