The New Year brings a chance to find legal peace of mind. To clear the air from past uncertainties and to go forward into a better more organized life.
I don’t believe in resolutions because they’re all too easy to break.
At the same time, as an attorney I like to see people think about certain issues best handled in advance.
Here are 10 things you can do now to forge a better legal future:
Do a will or review your will if you have one. This tells people how you wish to dispose of your house, your money and all other property. You can specifically leave your jewelry or other specific items to your niece or anyone else and eliminate quibbling later. The will takes care of any and all money and property. The will does not take care of funeral or other disposal arrangements so if you haven’t addressed that reality, now is a good time to do that separately.
Advance Care Directives
A heath care proxy designates someone to tell health care providers how to handle things if you are in a terminal condition. The actual name of the document in New Hampshire is the Power of Attorney for Health Care. The other directive is called a “Living Will”. This is a direct statement to medical providers indicating your wishes whether to take measures to prolong life or not in a terminal situation.
A will must go through Probate Court to be effective. Many people do not understand this. A trust avoids probate. A trust costs more than a will. But in the long run a trust avoids the expense and delay of probate later. There are different types of trusts so tread carefully and work with an attorney and financial planner. If you’re looking to protect assets against the nursing home be aware there is a five year look back, meaning any trust enacted with that goal will not be effective for that purpose for five years.
Power of Attorney for Financial Affairs
If you become incapacitated this document names another person to act in your place. Under a power of attorney, the named person can handle your financial affairs. That includes paying bills, handling the bank account even managing your property. Powers of Attorney are often used for example so that someone else can sit in at a real estate closing.
Talk to Someone: Achieve Legal Peace of Mind
Let your loved ones, someone close to you, know where all of your important documents are kept. Even if you have done all of the above, what good is it if no one knows where it is? Organize all important documents and information needed to find your documents. Then let a trusted person know where it is and what to do.
Any financial interest you may have in life insurance, annuities, 401Ks and other financial accounts of this nature will pass upon your demise through a beneficiary statement. Now is a good time to check and make sure your beneficiary statements accurately state your wishes. People tell me all the time “Oh, yeah, I did that.” There’s actually a case in which a guy failed to change his beneficiary statement after he divorced and remarried. Because he failed to change the beneficiary statement, which is a contractual obligation, wife # 1 was awarded the death benefit. Check your beneficiary statements.
File Business Entity Documents
During the pandemic many people struck out on their own and formed their own businesses. If it’s working that’s great. Even if you did file papers to form an LLC or Corporation, those entities require an annual filing with the secretary of state. In addition, your corporation requires an annual meeting. Your LLC should be checked t make sure your operating agreement, sometimes called an LLC agreement accurately reflects company goals. If you did not enact an operating agreement, put it together now.
Check Insurance Coverage
Many people buy auto, homeowners and other insurance with the goal of getting the cheapest insurance. Review all of your coverage. Make sure coverage is actually there if you need it. What if an uninsured driver causes an injury to you or your family? What if something happens to your home or business? After an accident or other calamity is not the time to find out your insurance policy lacks adequate coverage.
The name of your first born, your dog and your first car make awful passwords even if thrown in with some numbers. Experts recommend we all change passwords frequently and not use the same password for bank accounts, social media and other online presences. Scramble letters, shake things up, anything to make it difficult for those with bad intent.
Read a Book
Great books exist on these subjects. Online sites and bricks and mortar stores sell books on the law. Legal reference, true crime, hacking, biographies, the Supreme Court and other subjects provide engaging reading. My personal favorite is the continuing question over the JFK assassination. Read about the law. It helps you understand and might make you the most interesting person to talk to at the next party or other gathering.
Author: Attorney Andrew D. Myers practices law in New Hampshire & Massachusetts. Your legal peace of mind comes with a thorough analysis of your needs and desires. Whether it’s a will, a trust, powers of attorney, health care directives or your business paperwork the office is ready able and willing to offer a free consultation and determine your needs.
Here’s more info on Advance Care Directives.