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Dos and Don'ts of Estate Planning

So, we're all going to die. Sorry for being a bit morbid, but it's a hazard of this type of law practice. But it is true - just as it's also true that we have to plan for our deaths. Your estate plan should be specific to you and your unique circumstances. With that in mind, I've compiled a list of "Dos and Dont's" when it comes to your estate planning:

DO: Write down a list of goals or objectives for your estate planning. We've all been in meetings where things went well, but as soon as we leave we realize we forgot the most important thing.

Even if it's just a few bullet points listing people you want to ensure are cared for, make that list!

DON'T: Get pushed into over-planning for your estate. One of the most common mistakes that people make is asking for a Trust when they don't need one. Most people don't need a Trust. It can be a valuable tool and really streamline the process your family goes through after your death, but most of the time there are simpler and more cost-effective ways to deal with your assets. The most important thing to remember is that having a Trust does not make you wealthy, nor do you automatically need a Trust even if you do have quite a bit of wealth.

Trusts are most effective for people who own lots of different types of things - farmland, a house, stocks and bonds, annuities, and other non-liquid assets. Trusts can also be used to protect assets for people with special needs who may not be able to manage their own finances. But that's it. Unless you fall into one of those big categories and someone tries to push you into getting a Trust, get a second opinion.

DO: Talk to an attorney. You can change a tire on your car, but you probably need a mechanic to rebuild the engine. You can put on a band-aid, but you probably need a doctor to set a broken bone. You can represent in small claims court, but you probable need an attorney to go through your estate planning. This is NOT one of those things that you can DIY. Yes, the state of Ohio puts out Living Will and Healthcare Power of Attorney documents, and those are wonderful. But if you have questions about what those words mean, you're better off asking an attorney.

Even if you do your estate planning through a site like Legal Zoom, take your documents to an attorney and ask if you can pay them for one hour or so of their time to review it. Many attorneys may be willing to consult with you for free for a half hour or so.

DON'T: Put off planning for later. Just don't. The best time to plan for your death or incapacity is when you're healthy and whole. No, it's not fun, but that's not the point. Please don't put this off till later.

DO: Keep your estate planning documents in a secure place where you AND at least one other person can find them. It's hard to use a Healthcare Power of Attorney if nobody knows where it is and nobody has a copy.

Hopefully these tips will help you as you embark on your estate planning journey. And good luck!

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