Do You Have an Estate Plan?

  • By Andrea Coombes, Marketwatch
  • June 12, 2014

Just Do It
The prospect of estate planning can be overwhelming. The first hurdle is simply facing the fact of death. The next hurdle is trying to get a handle on complex topics that are often shrouded in legalese. Then there’s the question of finding and hiring an attorney. (If your financial situation is simple, there are do-it-yourself options, such as the software available at The key is to just take one step. “Start wherever you are, and take a step,” Annino said.

Maybe that step is a financial power of attorney. Maybe it’s creating a will that names a guardian for your children. Whatever it is, just start — and keep in mind that you’ll need to revisit your estate plan at least once every five years, and more often if there’s a change in law or in your family status. “This is a process that’s going to evolve as your life situation changes,” Annino said.

The Basics
No matter what your age or how much money you should have, consider getting these items into place:

  • A financial power of attorney, naming the person who will make money decisions for you if you can’t
  • A health-care power of attorney, naming the person who will make health-care decisions for you if you can’t
  • A living will specifying your end-of-life wishes
  • If you have minor children, a will that names a guardian for them
  • Make sure the beneficiary designations on retirement accounts and life-insurance policies are up-to-date.
  • Talk to your bank and representatives of your other financial accounts to make sure the titling of those assets suits your situation.

Of course, even these relatively simple tasks pose challenges: You need to pick people whom you trust, and who will agree about the best course of action concerning your health care and finances. You want to avoid conflicts “between the person in charge of your health-care decisions and the person in charge of your money,” Annino said.

“One person may not think it’s a good idea to spend money on round-the-clock care, whereas the person who has the health-care proxy may see no problem with that,” she said. “Think through those conflicts when making those decisions.”

Andrea Coombes is a personal-finance writer and editor in San Francisco. She's on Twitter @andreacoombes. This article originally appeared on and is reprinted by permission from, ©2014 Dow Jones & Co. Inc. All rights reserved. 

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