A Year-End Check-Up!

by Lloyd McAlister

Year’s end or the beginning of a new year, whichever you prefer, is an excellent time to get in the habit of checking your important personal paperwork – documents that are legally and financially important for you and your family.  So, consider taking an hour or so to do the following paper check-up:

  1. Locate your documents!  Isn’t it amazing how many times we need some piece of paperwork and aren’t sure where to look for it? If you can’t relate to that problem, move on to #2!   If you’ve experienced that problem, though, you know it is a good idea to gather all your important records.  
  2. Confirm the documentation you have! Your important records might include: military service and discharge papers; retirement plan papers; insurance policies; documents evidencing your ownership of all your assets, including vehicle titles, financial account statements, deeds for land and minerals, ownership records for assets received by gift or inheritance, trust papers for any interests you have in existing trusts, and so on.  And, last but by no means unimportant, your estate planning documents, including your last will and testament, your revocable trust, your durable power of attorney, your healthcare power of attorney (for general health and personal care decisions), your advance directive for healthcare (for end of life health decisions) and your consent for your attorney to communicate with your fiduciaries.  
  3. Confirm you have the necessary signed, original documents!  In most of our business and personal matters it is acceptable to simply have a copy of documentation, rather than a signed and dated original document.  This is so either because we aren’t the party responsible for possession of an original or the original document is not necessary.  However, as you well know, it can be very important to have the original paperwork proving ownership of certain types of assets, either in order to transfer ownership to a new owner or in order to establish our own ownership.  Likewise, original estate planning documents, properly executed with your signature and, if required, the signatures of witnesses and/or a notary public, can be critical in carrying out plans and instructions in the event of your incapacity or death.  
  4. Confirm your documents are current!  Have you ever felt time was passing quickly?  The speed of time passing seems especially real when we notice how “old” something has gotten without our notice.  For example, do you remember the date you did your estate planning documents (Will, trust, powers of attorney, advance directive for healthcare, etc.)?  Have things changed since then?  Do your documents still work the way you originally intended and, if so, is that still how you want things to happen?  Our clients regularly call upon us to meet with them and review their documents in order to assess whether any updating is needed or desirable.  Although this may seem inconvenient and does involve time and expense, the cost at present can be very small in comparison to the problems and costs which can be caused by having outdated documents which are no longer adequate or appropriate for the person’s situation.

My planning check-up:

  • What documents do I have?  
  • And which are signed originals?
  • Will    
  • Trust    
  • Durable Power of Attorney    
  • Healthcare Power of Attorney    
  • Advance Directive for Healthcare
  • Where are my documents located?
  • Are my documents current?