The problem with resolutions is that they’re often hopes and wishes geared toward fixing things we want to change but never seem to have the time to:
- Lose weight
- Quit bad habits
- Stay in touch with people better
- Be more adventurous
It can quickly become discouraging when a month or two into the New Year you’re too busy for the gym, still biting your nails, the inbox is full with unread messages, and you’ve yet to plan that vacation zip-lining through the rainforest.
Don’t lose hope! We’re sure you’ll get around to all these endeavors eventually, but how about doing a few things you can easily complete that are important and long-lasting. We’re talking about the basic components of planning.
It’s the perfect time. You’re already excited at the prospect of a new year, so let's make some decisions that’ll benefit you and your family or loved ones for the rest of your life.
1. The Best Medicine Is Often Actual Medicine (Unless You Don’t Want Any)
- I’ve never filled out an Advance Directive, which is comprised of my Living Will and Health Care Proxy. This lets people know the types of medical treatment I want if something happens to me.
Making your medicial decisions known is something you can do right now. Go to our State-By-State Advance Directive Form page, find your state, and follow the instructions. [Learn More: Advance Directive Cheat Sheet]
Why it’s important: Don’t force someone else to make a decision you should make for yourself.
- I properly filled out an Advance Directive for my state but have no idea where I keep it. My family probably doesn’t know either.
Stop what you’re doing right now and find it. Seriously. We’ll wait… Still waiting… *watching cute dog video on YouTube* Ok, got it? Good! Now put it somewhere prominent where people can find it.
An Advance Directive isn’t something you want to keep private, like a savings account balance or how much you spent on that snazzy jacket. This document needs to be readily available, otherwise medical professionals won’t follow it.
We suggest putting the location and a scan of it in your Everplan. It’s sorta what we do.
- I properly filled out my state's Advance Directive form and my family and loved ones can easily locate it in case of an emergency.
I don’t mean to brag, but how can a person not when they’re this awesome?
2. Have A Strong Will
A Will takes care of two important things: It makes sure your assets and kids/dependents (if applicable) end up in the right hands.
- I haven’t named a guardian for underage children, or an adult I’m caring for who has special needs.
Take some time to seriously think about who you'd want to take care of your children if you're not around. If you’re not sure what steps you need to take, check out this article: How To Choose A Guardian For Minor Children Or Dependents.
Why it’s important: You don’t want the courts to decide for you, which they will.
- I’ve already named a guardian, making me a responsible person.
I have also earned the right to eat as much cake and/or pie as I choose.
Your Money and Stuff
- I haven’t created a Will but I really need to.
Why it’s important: The same reason you need to name a Guardian. The distribution of your assets should benefit your family and loved ones, not tear them apart. [Learn More: Wills Cheat Sheet]
- I haven’t create a Will and I don’t want to.
If you think your family will be fair and reasonable when it comes to distributing your assets, then you need to let them know that you purposefully didn’t create a Will.
Why it’s important: If you don’t tell anyone you never created a Will they could spend the next year, or longer, looking for it. Plus, your estate will have to go through Probate and unless everyone is in agreement, the court will assign an Executor.
Note: This could lead to more anger and frustration among survivors than if you left all your money and possessions to your pet hamster. Also, keep this in mind: Most Wills are boilerplate, meaning that they’re very general and relatively easy to complete. It’s something to think about, as is this article: 8 Signs Your Family Will Fight Over Your Estate.
- I’ve created a Will and my family/loved ones know where it is.
This, along with my nature-sounds machine, is why I sleep like a baby every single night.
3. The Safety Net
- I don’t have any Life Insurance but I really want to get some.
You might already have some Life Insurance through your job, which is very good, but it’s not as reliable as a standalone policy. (Example: If you switch jobs you lose those benefits.) You probably already have car insurance, health insurance, and home insurance. Schedule some time to talk to an insurance agent to at least get an idea of what to expect. [Learn More: Life Insurance Cheat Sheet]
Why it’s important: If you’re unexpectedly not around to provide for your family, who will?
- I have Life Insurance, my family knows I have it (probably), but they have no idea where I keep the policy.
Tell them where you keep the policy! What’s the point in paying all those premiums if no one knows you have it? Do you know how much money is lost each year from unclaimed Life Insurance policies? It’s probably a lot. We could Google it, but who cares about stats when the future of your family could be at stake.
- I have an up-to-date Life Insurance policy and my family can easily locate it.
Proof that I’m not only very attractive but responsible and smart as well.
4. Gotta Get The Papers, Get The Papers
- I fear all the stacks of important papers and documents littering my desk/office/den/bedroom/car/etc…
We know this can be extremely overwhelming, so we created this Documents To Organize And Share Checklist to get you started. From there, you can neatly organize everything so even a stranger could understand them.
Why it’s important: If you’re not around you want to make sure the bills still get paid, the vital services your family needs will remain on (example: power), and services that are no longer required are turned off (example: recurring perscriptions). While this has some crossover with Digital Estate components below, you need to get a handle on all those things on autopay, which will stay active until your credit card expires or your checking account runs dry. [Learn More: Important Documents Cheat Sheet]
- I keep all my important documents organized so well…
I make Martha Stewart jealous.
5. It’s All About The Money, Money, Money
Understand the basics. A POA is like a Living Will for your money. If something happens to you, your POA has complete control over your finances (example: pay bills, pay taxes, manage your money as if it were their own, etc...). You can name a POA online or through an estate attorney. [Learn More: Power Of Attorney Cheat Sheet]
Trusts can protect your money from taxes, help pay for a big Life Insurance policy, and allow your heirs to avoid Probate after you’re gone. While you can create Trusts online, it’s also smart to speak with a financial planner or estate attorney to make sure it’s done correctly. [Learn More: Trusts Cheat Sheet]
In both cases, you might think that you don’t have enough money to go through the trouble of naming a POA or creating a Trust. However, just because you might not have millions in the bank, if you own a house, property, cars, investment accounts, or anything else of value (jewelry, baseball card collection, etc…), it could all add up to a decent-sized estate.
Why it’s important: People fight over money. While your family and loved ones might be the exception, why take the chance?
- I haven’t named a Power Of Attorney or created any Trusts, but I want to.
Since you already know this is important, and you’re going to be doing your taxes soon, why not feed two squirrels with one acorn? (We like this saying better than “kill two birds with a stone.” Who does that? Bird murderers, that’s who!)
If you already have a financial planner or someone who helps prepare your taxes, make a note that you need to discuss this during your appointment. If you do your own taxes check out our Guide To Online Legal Services to get the ball rolling.
- I don’t want or need a POA or Trusts so I’ll just carry on to the next section, thank you very much.
6. Let’s Get Digital
- I need to get a handle on all my digital accounts (Facebook, Gmail, Amazon, etc…) so they don’t float around forever after I’m gone.
It’s interesting how something that didn’t exist a generation ago has become one of the most important parts of our lives. It’s how we communicate, stay connected with friends and loved ones, shop, pay bills, purchase entertainment, and so much more. Here are two options to keep it all organized:
High-tech: Start using a password manager. You just need to make sure someone you trust has access to the master password if something happens to you. [Learn More: Popular Password Managers]
Low-tech: Keep a document, either on your computer or on actual paper, and make sure it’s regularly updated and can be accessed by someone you trust.
Finally, you have to let the person or people you share this info with know what you want done with these accounts. Do you want them deleted, memorialized, passed to someone else? [Plug Alert: You can do this in your Everplan. We spend countless hours thinking of every contingency so you don’t have to.]
Why it’s important: There are so many reasons, from personal (like giving someone access to all those digital photos you’ve taken) to practical (preventing fraud and identity theft). [Learn More: How To Create A Digital Estate Plan]
There’s also the possibility that you want to take some things to the grave. We’re not here to judge, only to help and here’s how: Eliminate All The Skeletons In Your Closet After You Die.
- All my digital accounts -- email, social media, etc… -- are perfectly accounted for and will be dealt with properly after I’m gone because I’ve specifically detailed what I want done with them.
I also fight crime and save endangered species in my spare time.
7. Don’t Forget Your Furry Friends
- I need to make arrangements for my pets if something happens to me.
Identify someone in your life who can serve as a pet guardian. Here are two resources you should use to get a plan in place for your furry family members:
- How To Make Sure Your Pets Are Taken Care Of After You’re Gone
- All The Information You Need To Share About Your Pets
Why it’s important: So many pets are left abandoned and helpless after their owner dies. It almost too sad to even think about and is completely preventable if you plan ahead.
- I’ve made arrangements for my pets if something happens to me.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’d like to go cuddle my puppy/kitty/bunny/pony/etc… for a few minutes.
8. One Last Thing...
- I haven’t given any thought to what I want done with my body after I’m gone.
We know it’s not the first thing anyone wants to think of at any point of the year, but give this question some thought:
Do you want to be buried, cremated, or have your body donated?
From there you have to let the person or people who can make this happen know.
Why it’s important: This decision can save those you leave behind from a world of hurt. We know it’s not easy, and you don’t have to plan your farewell to perfection, but it's really thoughtful to provide some basic direction to your family and loved ones.
- I’ve given thought to what I want done with my body after I’m gone but haven’t told anyone.
Tell someone. Either have the conversation, write it down, or put it in your Everplan (hint, hint). Just make it clear this is what you want; if you’ve already made plans, all the better. If you’d like to pre-plan, then check out this article: How To Pre-Plan Your Funeral.
- I’ve already decided upon my final disposition, let the people I love know about it, and now I never have to think about it again.
Someone earned themselves a cookie!
That’s All Folks
We’ve given you a lot to think about, but hopefully by this time next year you’ll have checked the third option on each of the eight items listed above and never have any more sleepless nights worrying about these things.
We hope you have a great 2016 and if you ever have any questions, suggestions, or planning tips, please get in touch with us. As you can tell, we love to chat about this stuff any chance we can get.