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The Do-It-Yourself Estate Planning Review

Trust us, we get it -- going to see the lawyer isn't everybody's idea of a good time, especially for a routine checkup. Just like when we spend an hour in the dentist's chair with the hopes of finding out that our teeth are all fine, that same trip to the lawyer usually involves wrangling a host of documents and often costs more than the dentist. While we would argue that time and cost is well worth it, our goal for clients is good legal health, and a routine self-exam is better than no exam, when it comes to estate planning.

Here is our method for performing a comprehensive self-review of your personal estate planning:

  1. Make a list of all of your assets. Specifically, identify all bank accounts, financial accounts, parcels of real estate, business, stocks, bonds, etc. separately.

  2. Identify ownership of each asset. Is it solely owned (just by you) or jointly owned with another person? Is it an asset which allows you to name a beneficiary? Write down that information next to the specific asset.

  3. Apply the "Rule of SJB": (a) if it's solely owned, it should be governed by your Will (or by a beneficiary designation, if it has one) upon your death; (b) if it's jointly owned, it should generally pass to the other owner upon your death; and (c) if it names a beneficiary, then it should pass to the named beneficiary upon your death. Ask yourself if this distribution scheme is suitable to you. This is the most important part of the process, typically.

  4. Review your Will to determine: (a) are the executors suitable; (b) are all of the beneficiaries correct?

Generally, if you get to this point and everything looks as it should be, perhaps you don't need an in-person lawyer review this year. However, appreciate that the steps above are extremely general--there are a variety of exceptions and other considerations that should apply, including regular changes in inheritance and tax laws.

If things appeared amiss when you prepared the list, or parts of the Will appeared incorrect, it's time to schedule that lawyer appointment. Remember: just like the doctor or the dentist, delaying lawyer appointments can have real consequences to you and the ones you love. Good estate planning is typically must less painful than the average trip to the dentist :)


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