Top Ten Ways to Declutter Your Legal Life
“There are few rites of spring more satisfying than the annual clean.” – Martha Stewart.
Birds chirping and flowers blooming are nice, but for the neatniks amongst us, hosing down patio furniture and resealing grout are spring’s greatest treasures.
Spring is not only a great time to declutter your closets, but also to declutter your legal life. Following Martha’s spring cleaning checklist may bring you inner calm and peace, but follow this list below and you will achieve total nirvana:
- Update your will or trust. A must for inner calm. If your will or trust is several years old, review it to make sure if still accomplishes what you want. If you don’t have a will or a trust, get one.
- Update your beneficiaries. If you have recently divorced, remarried, have a new baby etc., review beneficiary designations on your retirement, bank and investment accounts. Incorrect designations can lead to unpleasant unintended consequences.
- Update deeds and titles. Are your house and car owned the way you want? Review deeds and titles to find out. As with beneficiary designations, incorrect ownership records for real property and vehicles can mean headache, delay and extra expense…and court involvement.
- Get a life insurance policy. The rule of thumb is if anyone is dependent on your income, get a policy. This ensures that your spouse, for example, can afford the mortgage payment if you die. Check out Suze Orman’s tips on life insurance here.
- Review your liability. Review car and house insurance policies. What do these really cover? Don’t wait for crisis to find this out. Also, if you are a business-owner, confirm that your personal liability is limited through creation of an LLC or other entity.
- Execute a Power of Attorney. If a medical situation rendered you speechless, immobile, etc., who would handle your financial affairs? Choose someone you trust fully as your agent, and execute a durable power of attorney.
- Create an Advance Directive. In same said medical situation, who would make medical decisions for you? What instructions would you leave for said person? An advance directive does both and prevents your loved ones from having to guess.
- Lock down your legal documents. Birth certificates, death certificates, social security cards, deeds, titles, bills of sale, estate plans. Keep originals of these important documents in a fire-proof safe or a safe deposit box. Keep copies accessible in your home office.
- Tell a friend where the key is. While it’s crucial to keep your legal documents under lock and key, it’s equally important that someone you trust knows where they are and how to access them.
- Don’t forget online accounts. In this age of electronic everything, it is crucial that you also tell said trusted friend how to access online bank accounts, etc. Keep up-to-date login information and passwords somewhere safe but accessible.
Sarah Vaile is an associate attorney with Robert W. Good, Attorney, LLC, and has been practicing law in Oregon for eight years. Contact her at the Ashland office at (541) 482-3763.