It’s the New Year, and people everywhere are busy with their annual resolutions to make their lives, or themselves, better. We have been celebrating January 1 as the New Year since 1582, when Pope Gregory XIII began the calendar system we still use today. Businesses and individuals have traditionally used the New Year as a time to close the books on the previous twelve months and start another year long cycle. It’s a time to start fresh, and to make the changes necessary to lead happier and more meaningful lives.
One of the most important things you can do for yourself and family is to organize your assets, your important documents and your life. A will, a living will, and a power of attorney are essential documents to clarify and carry out your wishes regarding your health care and your possessions.
A will is a legal document that names one person, the Executor, to be responsible for managing your estate and the distribution of assets, such as your property, possessions and financial assets after your death. An attorney or a financial planner can assist you with preparing your will to avoid taxes and other financial burdens for your family after you are gone.
A living will, or advance directive, specifies the degree and type of medical care you want to receive should you be unable to make such decisions. A medical power of attorney allows your designated representative to act as your health care decision maker if you are incapacitated. It’s important to discuss sustained medical treatment and end of life issues with your doctor and your family before you become ill or hospitalized, so everyone clearly understands your wishes. Give your primary care physician a copy of your living will to be kept in your permanent medical file.
The power of attorney allows you to designate someone to pay bills and handle other personal business on your behalf if you are disabled or incapacitated. Many people choose an adult child or another close relative who can be trusted to maintain your household and have access to your bank accounts and other property and assets.
Keep these documents and all your important papers in a secure place within your home where you or your family can have quick access. Don’t use a safe deposit box in a bank which may be inaccessible to your family in an emergency. This file should also include information on all of your property, investments, bank accounts, and other important documents like military discharge papers and insurance policies. Let your loved ones know where to find the file. If you become seriously ill or pass away, your family will then have all the information they need regarding your medical care and your estate at their fingertips. Critical decisions will not be left to speculation or chance.
While you’re organizing things, take a look at your home and your belongings. Clutter and unused clothing, furniture and other belongings can have a negative effect on your home life and your health. Make the New Year a starting point to reevaluate your lifestyle and your home. Clean out the closets and the storage areas to assess what you have and what you really need and want to have. Then remove everything that is no longer useful by donating, recycling, or selling. You’ll be helping others while you help yourself.