Give the Gift of Planning


Sometimes it's the little things that turn out to be the biggest problems in the end.

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Right before the end-of-the-year holidays when the family gathers is a good time to think about some retirement-planning details that can make life easier when the inevitable happens.

Paul Mauro, managing partner of Legacy Financial Advisors, says when he settles an estate after a death, he often encounters these five issues that make the job harder for him and the bereaved family. Here are the problems and what you can do to avoid them.

Who are you, anyway? If you are John Robert Jones on one document and Robby Jones on another and J.R. on a third, your family will have to prove you are one and the same person. Discrepancies in birth dates and Social Security numbers are even harder-to-resolve issues.

You own what, where? If you own property in more than one state -- a cottage in Wisconsin or a home in Florida -- your survivors will face probate in both places unless you've put in place a trust or other legal plan to avoid it. At least, discuss the problem with your financial adviser or an attorney. Forcing your heirs to go through probate in two states can cost thousands and multiply their gray hairs.

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Keep the paperwork current. Dealing with death or Alzheimer's -- yours or your spouse's -- is doubly difficult if nothing is up-to-date and you aren't there or you're not able to sign off on the changes. Mauro advises making sure you have the right papers to control your spouse's retirement as well as your own.

Hand over the jewelry. Families can have a meltdown over things such as diamond rings. Divvying up personal items either by giving them away while you're still there to accept a loving thank you or in writing as a part of your will can help keep the family friendly.

Have a plan for the toys. If you collect hard-to-value and hard-to-sell things such as woodworking tools or postcards from every country in the United Nations, hand the collection off to someone else who will love these items as much as you do -- or leave precise instructions for donating or getting a fair return on the sale of them.

Your generosity and thoughtfulness in taking care of these retirement and estate-planning details will be one of the best holiday gifts you can give your loved ones.