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The holidays are behind us, and it seems everyone I see is at a run in this new year. I hope you enjoyed the holidays and spent some great time with family and/or friends.
With the new year, many people make all types of resolutions; few achieve them. Often the resolutions are made, but the person never sets the goals that will help achieve their resolutions. Like a living room trinket that is placed on a shelf and forgotten, people place the resolution on a shelf in their mind and forget about it.
That is also what many people do with their personal affairs. People write a will, stick it in a safe deposit box, and forget about it. People purchase life insurance policies, have premiums taken out as an allotment or automatic bank draft, and never think about the policy again.
A new year is an excellent time to conduct a review of your personal affairs. Has anything changed in your life that would cause you to change anything for which you may have already planned?
The following are some ideas to help you conduct a review of your personal affairs. Pull out your wallet and look at your drivers license. When does the license expire? Is it due in 2022? If you haven’t obtained the “Star ID,” is that something you want to do? If so, start collecting the documents you will need to take to the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency. If you just need a renewal, we can do that for you in your Probate Office up to six months before the renewal date (you do not lose any time; it will be good for four years from the scheduled renewal date).
Also check your automobile tags to see when they expire. Write renewal dates on your new 2022 calendar.
Now for a more difficult step. Make a detailed list of items and where you have them stored. List bank deposits (all banks, credit unions and accounts by type), current will, advance directive/living will (in case you are unable to make medical decisions), prenuptial/marriage agreements, birth certificate, marriage certificate, divorce decrees, military separation documents (DD-214), Social Security card, Medicare card, health/dental insurance cards, all insurance policies (health, life, vehicle, homeowners, etc.), death certificates from other family members, passport, bank cards, credit cards, employee benefit documents, check books, investments, bonds, retirement accounts, tax documents, deeds, trusts, and sources of all income.
This list is not all inclusive, but it is a good start. Once you have listed all this information, make a copy and store the original in a safe place or with someone you trust. Make sure if you are storing the list, someone other than yourself will have access to that safe place.
Using the copy you made as your working list, now the tedious stuff begins. If you have a will, review it. Is the person you appointed as your personal representative still an option for you? Has anything in your estate changed? Have you sold items listed in your will or acquired items that are not included but should be? Are there any heirs you wish to change? More often than we would like to admit, someone passes and never changed their will when he/she remarried, when family or friends fell from grace, or circumstances changed that would impact decisions made years before. If you don’t have a will, should you?
If you have an Advance Directive/Living Will, review it. Are your listed proxies still the persons you want to have this authority and capable of decision making you trust? If your proxy is a bitter ex-spouse, you should probably make some changes. If you do not have an Advance Directive/Living Will, consider establishing one. Alabama Code 22-8A-4 has an excellent example of elements that should be included in the Advance Directive and how it should be written.
Check your life insurance policies. Make sure to account for each policy by making a list and then reviewing the beneficiary. Is the policy a paid-up policy or must you continue paying the premiums? Is the beneficiary still alive? Is the beneficiary an ex-spouse to whom you want to leave nothing? Has anything changed to require you to adjust the payout percentages you previously established?
Have you provided a power of attorney to anyone? Do you still need that power of attorney (PoA) or need to change the person you delegated that power? Is the PoA still in effect? If you do not have a PoA, should you?
For bank accounts, review each one. Who is on the account? Are you the only person on the account? What happens if you are incapacitated; does someone have access to an account to obtain emergency funds for you or pay your debts? Do you have deceased persons listed on any accounts? If so, consider removing them in case someone steals their identity.
Are you entitled to military benefits of any kind? What agency needs to be notified in case of your death? Make a note to whoever might oversee your affairs to check with the local Veterans Affairs representative to determine any benefits to which you are entitled or in the event of your death, if your surviving spouse may be eligible for benefits.
Do you have investments or retirement accounts in which you invested? In the event of your death, do you want those accounts to become a part of your estate, or should you take action to allow them to pass outside of your estate? Do you have a transfer on death (TOD) beneficiary listed? If so, is that information accurate or should it be changed?
If you have property deeds, do the deeds have survivability clauses to pass the property to someone if you die? If so, that property will pass to the survivor the moment you depart this life. Is it someone you want to receive the property or have circumstances changed since you acquired the deed?
Do you have a guardian and/or conservator? If not, is your health getting to the point it might be a wise idea for you to appoint someone? Do you need assistance making medical decisions as they relate to your person? Is the checkbook getting a little too cumbersome for you to keep updated? These are things to think and make a decision about while you are able.
By now, you are probably seeing the trend. As you review each item on your list, be critical and thorough. Reflect on decisions made in times past to ensure they will be the right actions if taken today. Try to remove any ambiguity and make sure someone has access to items in case the need arises. Plan so you can have influence over your estate; take action to make sure it is an intended influence and not an influence due to oversight.
The information above is meant to inform and not to advise. If you have legal questions, contact an attorney. No person should ever apply or interpret any law without the aid of an attorney who analyzes the facts. If you have questions regarding investments, contact a fund’s manager.
Until next month; stay safe, take care, and God bless!