Leaving a Legacy Has Become a Science

Physician's Money Digest, July 2006, Volume 13, Issue 7

A person's legacy cannot be measured by onesolitary event in their life. Rather, legacies,like lives themselves, must be measured as awhole. If you've ever taken a step back and examinedyour own life and legacy, what have you found?

Do you feel comfortable with what you'll leavebehind? How do you want people to rememberyou when you're gone? More importantly, howcan you make sure people remember you in death,as you were in life? Estate planning, as a part ofyour complete retirement planning process, hasbecome an important tool in deciding how yourlife's work will be viewed. Without it, the courtswill decide who gets what. With the proper planning,you decide what individuals or charitiesreceive your assets.

There are a few basic tips to estate planning thatwill help you formulate a proper legacy. The first,and most basic choice (but one of the most important),is to choose a financial professional who canhelp guide you through the process. Estate planningis tricky, and by enlisting the help of a professional,you help ensure your planning is done properlyand efficiently.

The second is a small amount of education. Doctorsare no strangers to learning, and by knowing thebasics of estate planning, you will have a better ideaof what you need to do. Here are a few basic tips onwhat you'll need to begin estate planning:

•Think ahead. Before preparing the most crucialdocuments needed for estate planning, it's importantto sit down and decide who you'll put in charge tomake medical and financial decisions for you. You'llalso want to decide who gets what. Picking out beneficiariesand an executor of your estate are two ofthe most critical decisions you can make. If you haveyounger children, it's also important to decide whatwould happen to them in case of an emergency.

•Know which documents you'll need. Ingeneral, it's recommended that you have a will, afinancial power of attorney, a medical power ofattorney, and a living will. All of these documentswill designate who will make decisions when you'regone, or if you're alive but unable to make importantchoices regarding medical care or finances.Your power of attorney will make your financialdecisions. Your medical power of attorney will bethe person you put in charge of medical decisions,while the living will describes the type of medicaldecisions you want your proxy to make.

•Survey your finances. Make sure you knowwhat you'll owe when you die, including the costs ofprobate. Subtract that from your assets and makesure you have a general idea of how much moneyyou'll have left over. By keeping tabs on your remainingassets, you'll be more prepared to know whatyou'll pay in taxes.

•Be ready for anything. When planning yourestate, you must be prepared in all areas of yourlife. From medical to financial decisions and everythingin between, it can be an uncomfortable subject,especially when you involve your family in theplanning. However, it's a topic that must bebroached, and an unbiased third party may help tomake these discussions smooth and informed.

In the end, you want your legacy to be protected.By carefully planning your estate, you can restassured that all of the proper measures have beentaken to protect your family's future.

Robert Valentine, CSA, of Huntington Beach, Calif, is withFinancial and Retirement Management, a registered investmentadvisory firm. He is a registered representative of and offerssecurities through Securities America, Inc, and is a registeredbroker/dealer, member NASD/SIPC. He welcomes questions orcomments at 877-732-2637.