What Did James Brown and Anna Nicole Smith Have in Common?

Perhaps if both of them had followed the advice recommended in the following article, their estates could have been settled more quickly and easily. Obviously, they did NOT “Get their houses in order” soon enough. Don’t cause your loved ones the agony of going through unnecessary struggles and heartbreak when faced with settling your own estate. All of us – and our children – must face this inevitable time of life some day. Give yourself and your family peace of mind by having things “in order”. Unfortunately, things happen. Getting your house in order early could be the best gift you leave behind for those you love. As discussed in the news these days, James Brown and Anna Nicole Smith needed to do a little “housekeeping” so that their wishes could be determined. Often families spend unnecessary amounts of money fighting over this, only to ultimately pay the attorneys a large portion before a settlement can be reached by the family members involved. The cost of planning ahead is far less than the cost of dispute and arbitration.

Losing weight may be the most common item at the top of everyone’s “New Year’s Resolution” list, but the “Housekeeping” process described below should be. Making an Estate Plan may seem like a daunting task. However, the following practice will offer a good way to get this process underway. And even if you have one in place, the following information could be helpful in keeping it updated each year. This plan is very simple and easy, and usually will not take much time. It will provide a great way for you to maintain peace of mind throughout the year. Here is how it works:

Each year sometime during the first quarter when tax documents begin to arrive, sit down with your spouse (or if single, do on your own). Ask just three simple but important questions. The answers that follow each question will help to determine if something needs to be done to “Get your house in order” – things like making a change in a will or trust or other components of your estate plan. (NOTE: In some cases, this may mean taking the steps to get wills written, an estate plan put together, or other critical concerns documented.) Here are three questions to ask:

1. What would I (wife) do if something happened to you (husband)?

2. What would you (husband) do if something happened to me (wife)?

3. What would our children do if something happened to both of us?

In some situations there may be other similar questions that need asking, but usually these three will take care of the main areas of concern. Sounds simple doesn’t it? Although it is (relatively speaking), questions can sometimes be profound and the changes that need to be made can be major. The obvious questions that need to be asked are such things as:

a. How much income would it take to maintain current lifestyle?

b. Are income sources adequate to provide for you?

c. Are life insurance policies in place?

d. If something happened you both, do children know what to do?

e. Where are the documents related to your estate plan located?

(Will or Trust, insurance policies, etc.” Can spouse/children

find them?

f. How should children settle your estate? Who should they call?

g. If children are young, have you made a written designation for a

guardian that is of your choosing – (and does that person know

and agree to this designation? Put it in writing!)

The list could get quite lengthy. However, at least deal with the basic questions that need to be discussed. Don’t get bogged down in details if this seems too complicated. By setting a time to discuss this during the first quarter of each year, it is much easier to keep the process from becoming overwhelming. Also, just knowing that you have discussed these issues will lead to greater peace of mind in the new year. Making time to address this should be a New Year’s Resolution that you repeat year after year.

In most couples, one of the two is usually more active in handling financial affairs, (taxes, bills, paperwork, etc.) All of us have heard about situations where something happens to the one who handles all of that, and the other is left to “figure it all out.” Often, these are the stories we hear about later after someone has become involved who takes advantage of the situation. Sometimes even fraudulent activity occurs. Most of these things could probably be avoided if the “Annual Board Meeting” described above would move to the top of everyone’s “New Year’s Resolution” list.

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