You Can’t Afford to Ignore the Basics of Estate Planning

By Chris Hussar | Print This Article

What does your tattoo say?

Eighty-one-year-old Joy Tomkins of Great Britain recently had the words “Do Not Resuscitate” tattooed on her chest to advise doctors of her wish to not be revived in the event of a grave medical emergency. Additionally, she had “P.T.O” (Please Turn Over) and an arrow tattooed on her back in case paramedics should find her face down.

Britain’s General Medical Council says most doctors would ignore Tomkins’ “Do Not Resuscitate” tattoo. Instead, a spokesman said that individuals need to put their DNR wishes in writing and have them witnessed, or appoint a health attorney.

Whether you find this story amusing or not, Joy Tompkins’ “plan” is more robust than that of 50 percent of Americans.(A Harris Interactive survey done for Lawyers.com in December 2009 showed that half the U.S. population doesn’t have the most basic documents in place.) While the term “estate planning” may seem to apply only to the wealthy, every adult – whether single or married, young or old – should address the core health care and estate issues.

While Tomkins may find her own mortality easy to deal with, many of us have put off basic estate planning because of unease with the topic and not knowing where to start. The following can be considered a basic primer to get started. When working with an adviser, remember that his or her value as a professional is to help you assess these areas and accomplish your goals with an effective plan that can be monitored and changed over time.

1) Take inventory of your assets and liabilities:

Regardless of your net worth, it is good to have a central accounting of your cash position, investments, retirement savings, insurance policies (work and individual), real estate and business interests. Make sure someone you trust knows this information as well.

2) Ask yourself a few initial questions:

Whom do you want to inherit these assets (and liabilities)? Are they aware of your wishes?

Whom do you want handling your financial affairs if you’re incapacitated?

Whom do you want making medical decisions for you if you become unable to do this?

Do you have young children or dependents? If yes, have you made your wishes clear as to who will care for them and with the proper financial resources?

Do you have out-of-date planning due to life changes? (additional children, empty nest, divorce, deceased spouse, relationship changes, etc.)

While estate-planning strategies have changed for some clients due to the 2010 Tax Relief Act, it is important to remember that the core needs remain very much the same.

Starting with these essential areas will lead to the process of creating and most important implementing and monitoring an effective plan. Burying our heads in the sand or simply asking our best friend if she would be the guardian of our seven children does not a plan make.

Save the pain of the tattoo parlor, and block out an hour to start assessing your goals and plan today!

Chris Hussar is Senior Advisor with Kelley & Mullis Wealth Management Inc. of Birmingham, AL.

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