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Making A Will Is Just The Start of Estate Planning

Having a will drawn up is just the beginning of effective estate planning. Here are some other steps you should take to protect your family:

Step 1: Keep your will up to date by reviewing it at least once a year. You may need to make changes to reflect such events as births, deaths, and new property acquisitions, and to take advantage of changes in the tax law. (An up-to-date personal financial statement can be very helpful in estate planning.)

Step 2: Inform your spouse about your business and investment assets. You don't have to discuss all the details, but your spouse should at least have a working knowledge of your pension or profit-sharing plan, your securities and investment goals, and your insurance policies. You should also acquaint your spouse with a trusted adviser or associate that he or she can turn to for help, especially in regard to your business.

Step 3: With the aid of your senior advisor, prepare a list of your major assets and documents along with their locations. (Make sure that your family knows where this list can be found.) The list might include, in addition to your tangible assets, an itemization of your securities, insurance policies, credit cards, safe deposit boxes, and important papers (such as your will, marriage license, titles to your home and automobiles, military discharge papers, etc.). In addition, include (as appropriate) the names and addresses of your accountant, attorney, banker, insurance broker, real estate broker, and stockbroker.

Step 4: With the aid of your senior advisor, prepare what is referred to as a "last letter of instruction" or "post-mortem letter" to your spouse or other close relative. The letter should include the names of people to contact upon your death, spell out funeral arrangements and so forth. It could include the list discussed under Step 3; if not, it should remind the reader of the list (and of its location).