Do it yourself Will|
Powers of Attorney|
One broad area of retirement that is often neglected is estate planning -- ensuring that your affairs are in order so that, when you die, your heirs can manage your estate with a minimum of red tape. Estate planning is largely a matter of preparing documents, although you may need to make some tough decisions along the way.
The primary document is your will: A will specifies who will receive your assets after your death, who will be guardians for any minor children you may have, any special requests you may have regarding your death and funeral, even who will take care of your pets. A will can also be accompanied by supporting documents, for example a revocable living trust. Every will that specifies asset distribution must go through the probate process, a court process that ensures that your assets end up in the right places. This takes time and involves court fees. If you move your assets to a revocable living trust and specify your asset distribution in that document, the process can proceed quickly, without involving fees. You still need a will, but that document will point to the trust agreement as the primary document.
Wills are easy to prepare; various websites provide blank forms, though be sure to find one that's reliable (such as Nolo or Quicken). Trust agreements are more complex and should not be attempted on one's own; hire an estate attorney to draw it up for you.
You will also need to designate powers of attorney for both health care and finance, should you become incapacitated and unable to make your own decisions. A health care power of attorney has decisionmaking authority over the medical care you receive; this is often a very difficult role, and you must ensure that you and your health care power of attorney are of like mind regarding end-of-life issues. You should also prepare an advance health care directive, or "living will," which specifies what level of care you wish to receive in an end-of-life scenario. Your living will and health care power of attorney documents should coordinate with each other -- if they are contradictory, it will be difficult for your doctor to proceed as you would wish him to proceed.
A power of attorney for finance, on the other hand, designates a person who will handle all your finances should you become incapacitated. You can be as specific as you wish, and can designate two persons with separate areas of concern (for instance, over a small business and over your personal finances), but be sure to cover all the bases. Your bills will still need to be paid, income deposited, investment accounts managed, real estate tended to, and so on.
It's easy to put off dealing with these matters; no one likes to contemplate his or her own death. Approach the matter objectively, with the aim of making life easier for your heirs. And discuss these issues openly with your designated powers of attorney and your heirs. If you have two or more children, it may not be enough to simply split your assets evenly among them; there may be heirlooms, and the "horse trading" among heirs is best done while you're still alive, allowing you to specify who gets what in writing, in your will or trust agreement. That's better than having them fight over your legacy after you're gone.