The beginning of the year is a great time to think about what you want to accomplish and to set specific goals. A good way to start is to create your own annual review checklist.
Things change … interest rates, tax laws and your personal situation. Many events may require you to revise your financial and estate plans, including:
- Marriage, divorce, separation or serious consideration of one of those options by a family member
- Expected or actual birth of a child or grandchild, adoption or addition of a stepchild
- Health changes that affect your or your spouse’s planning, lifestyle or attitudes
- Desire to add or delete specific bequests
- Decision to make gifts of property or cash to your children/grandchildren, or to make a charitable gift that will provide income for life
- Significant changes in your asset values
- Acquisition or disposal of real estate (or serious consideration)
- A received or imminent inheritance
- A change (or consideration of a change) in life insurance beneficiaries
- Reconsideration of designated guardian(s) or successor guardian(s)
- Wish to name a specific person as advisor to your executor and/or trustees
- Relocation due to a job transfer, retirement or personal reason
- Significant changes in your spending patterns
- Changes in retirement planning
- Purchase of a retirement home, vacation home or time-share unit
- Significant realized or unrealized capital gains or losses from last year
- Casualty insurance review
- Changes in your savings plan contributions
Plan for the unexpected. Along with your estate plan and testamentary arrangements, consider writing down your objectives, ideas and wishes in a letter to your family that will guide them in handling estate and investment matters, and in making other important decisions, in your absence.
Consider including a note of caution not to consider your thoughts rigid or binding, but to temper them by careful consideration of facts and circumstances existing when a decision must be made. Things change, and we can’t foresee every eventuality.
Here are other things you may want to include in your letter:
- Arrangements for funeral, last rights and burial
- Provisions relating to medical and nursing home car
- Wishes regarding life support systems and organ donation
- Advice on whom to seek out for medical, legal and financial counsel
- Investment philosophy
- Important goals for the family
- Special information or other comments for a spouse
- Locations of original legal documents (power of attorney, will, etc.)
Your letter should be signed and dated, and may be sealed. The envelope should be marked “To be opened in the event of my serious illness, incapacitation, or death.”
It is important to address these and related issues now. Set goals and determine a time frame for accomplishing them. Remember the adage that if you fail to plan, you can plan to fail.