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Experts: Resolve to create or update a sound estate plan

Life improvements are almost always the subject of New Year's resolutions. The declarations to get fit, change relationships and improve career or financial prospects that are sincere on Dec. 31 often become diluted or forgotten by spring.

Estate planning experts in California encourage consumers to consider commitments that last beyond a lifetime. Living wills, medical directives and trusts are integral elements in well-rounded estate plans.

Unless death is sudden, most people reach a point in life when they are incapacitated either temporarily or permanently. Accident or illness may physically or mentally disable a person of any age. Slow, cognitive decline is common for the elderly.

Without a plan to give directions or pass decisions to a trusted party, relatives and medical personnel may be helpless to act on your behalf. A living will contains your medical choices. A designated health care surrogate becomes your voice for decisions you can no longer make.

Within these documents are choices you have made. The health-related documents can be as detailed as a person wishes. Without these estate planning documents or the naming of a health care proxy, a judge who knows nothing about you may decide how to proceed.

Experts note that many individuals who create estate plans forget to update them regularly. Every account, insurance policy or retirement plan includes a beneficiary. If the last time you verified a beneficiary was before a family birth, death or divorce an update is overdue.

Assets meant for heirs, including minor children, may be placed in trusts. A revocable trust and the assets within it can remain in the control of the person who establishes the trust until incapacity or death. Control then passes to a designated trustee who manages and distributes assets according to pre-set instructions.

A vow to protect and update personal health care and financial choices is a resolution that will outlast the year and may benefit generations.

Source: forbes.com, "Three Resolutions For The End Of Life," Carolyn McClanahan, Jan. 1, 2013

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