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Six Estate Planning Tips to Reduce the Burden on Your Loved Ones

It is fair to say that most of us would rather think about other things than dying, however, it is certainty we will all face one day. Here are six tips to help insure your wishes will be carried out and your affairs will be in order when the time comes.

1. Make sure you have a current will (reviewed within the last five years unless your plans have changed for administrators, beneficiaries or guardians) in your resident state (will law is state specific and could cause complications if yours does not include your residence state specific language). I strongly recommend you have a local attorney draft the documents. That will provide a local relationship and insure your will is properly executed.

2. Check the titling of your investment and bank statements. Single name accounts should have Transfer on Death (TOD) designation to avoid probate. Bank accounts can use a Payable on Death or In Trust for (POD) or ITF) designation to also avoid probate. In those situations where you want assets to pass through your will (for tax planning, specific family circumstance s or special needs trusts) those designations should not be used. If you have accounts with a deceased person’s name on them, it is better to get those accounts re-titled into your name to avoid added complications and expenses. Your investment company, investment professional or legal counsel can help accomplish this.

3. Check that all beneficiary designated accounts (insurance, annuities, and retirement accounts including IRAs, 403(b), TSA, and Pensions) have the beneficiaries you want on them. They are easy to change and simply require a form from the specific company. If you want a deceased beneficiary’s share to go to his/her children, then a per stripes distribution must be specified. Do not have any beneficiaries on your accounts that are currently receiving Medicaid as their share will be available as a resource and subject to spend down rules.

4. Have updated state specific health directives done. These are known as living wills and health care proxies. The documents are usually drafted by an attorney as part of an estate planning package and appoint a person of your choice to make your health care decisions in the event you are not able to. They also direct medical personnel and institutions on what types of life sustaining or hospice care you desire. Without those documents, the institution will provide care to limit their liability, which may not be what you want.

5. Share with your family members where your important papers are located. These include your marriage or divorce certificates, Social Security and any military documents, safe deposit agreements and keys, investment and insurance statements and policies, tax returns and documents used for filing, funeral and burial plans, specific wishes for property bequests of jewelry, art or household effects and pension information.

6. Make a list of persons that you would like to be notified upon death. Include their addresses and phone numbers to eliminate confusion at a stressful time. That list will likely include family, friends, advisers, clergy and health care providers.

Completion of these six steps will reduce the additional stress and emotional toll that your death will have upon your loved ones. It will also insure that your wishes control the distribution of your assets and not your state of residency. In addition, any specific medical treatment will be carried out according to what you desire instead of what potential liability the medical provider is trying to avoid.

The author of this article, George S. Urist, MBA, CFP® is President and Owner of Urist Financial and Retirement Planning Inc., located in East Syracuse, New York. He has been a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ and Registered Representative with LPL Financial for over 23 years. George can be followed on twitter @gurist and can be reached at 315-445-2147 or at