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New Year's resolutions and estate planning

It's not too early to start thinking about your New Year's resolutions -- especially if they include getting your estate in order.

Every year that ticks by has a habit of reminding people of their own mortality. If this year has triggered those thoughts for you, then it's time to address the issues head on. However, watch out for some common errors.

Forgetting to plan for disability when you plan for death

While you'd probably prefer a quiet death in your sleep, the odds are good that you'll experience at least a short period of disability before death. Make sure that you have your attorney draw up durable power of medical attorney and durable power of financial attorney paperwork so that your medical care is handled in a way you'd approve (if you could direct it yourself) and your finances are handled (while you're still alive but unable to handle them on your own). Keep in mind that the same person doesn't have to be in charge of both issues. It's more important that you pick someone you trust and who knows what you'd want -- medically and financially -- than anything else.

Not learning about ways to reduce estate taxes

Properly planned, most estates can pass through without anything (or hardly anything) going to taxes. Improper planning (or no planning at all) can see the estate dwindle just from taxes and attorney fees alone. Take advantage of gifts that you can make while still living and offload some of your heirs' inheritance. They'll appreciate it and you'll have the pleasure of seeing them enjoy it while you're still around.

Not deciding how you want to pass on the house

For most people, their home is the single biggest asset they own. If you have multiple heirs, giving each a share could create massive fights, which isn't the legacy you want to leave. Consider ordering it sold or giving it to the heir that you genuinely feel deserves it or will love it best. Just equal things out in your will in other ways so that the other heirs aren't resentful.

Handled right, your estate plans can ensure peace for you and your heirs, which is a wonderful legacy to pass on to the next generation. An attorney can provide more help with probate and estate issues.

Source: FindLaw, "Ten Common Estate Planning Mistakes to Avoid," accessed Nov. 16, 2017

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