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Four Must-Have Retirement Documents
Are you adequately prepared for that final road trip of life? If not, when you die you create needless heartache and loss for loved ones left behind. Estate planning is appropriate at any stage of life. It's particularly appropriate when you've got retirement realities on the mind. Here are four essential considerations:
- Every adult needs a will. Die without one, and the state decides what happens to your property. Rarely will the state's mandate follow what you would do if you had the opportunity to act. See an attorney to complete a will. It isn't that expensive and ensures your property will be distributed in accordance with your wishes. After you complete the will, review it every few years to verify its validity and conformance with state law.
- Be aware of what counts as an estate asset for tax purposes when you die. Basically, that's everything you own, including the face value of life insurance policies and the current value of all your retirement plans. You may pass an estate of unlimited value to your spouse at death with no tax consequences. When that spouse dies, though, there may be some heavy taxes that cause your children to receive far less than they should. If your estate is worth at least $1 million, consult an estate-planning attorney (don't we all wish we had this problem!).
- What if you become incapacitated, either mentally or physically? You might want to look into a durable power of attorney granted to someone you trust, such as your spouse or an adult child. You may also want to add a medical power of attorney. Both will allow the person you select to make decisions on your behalf. Without those documents, your family will be forced to hire an attorney, go to court, and have someone appointed as your conservator and/or guardian to make decisions and conduct business on your behalf. That's a needless, time-consuming, and costly process that can be avoided with one or two inexpensive documents that an attorney can prepare today.
- Lastly, you may want to execute a living will. It's a silly name for a document that really says you want the right to die a natural death free of all costly, extraordinary efforts to maintain your life when that life can be sustained only by artificial means. This document is free in virtually every hospital in the nation. It makes such decisions easier on the doctor, the hospital, and your family.
Estate planning encompasses much more than a will. It may be true that you can't live with lawyers, but you certainly can't die without them. Every month in our Rule Your Retirement newsletter ( we show readers how to use a pro's talents to ensure things work the way you want.
Borrowed from a newsletter, March 2005
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