Estate Planning: 10 Things That Make the Road to Heaven Smoother

a sunrise - or sunset - estate planningThis isn't an ugly mother-in-law story. Actually, I loved my mother-in-law, and her death at 85 was painful -- far more painful than it really needed to be because she hated to talk about what she considered her personal affairs -- especially when it involved money. And the rest of us didn't want to bring up the subject either. Honestly, I would rather have asked her about her sex life than explore what she intended to do with the cash she had spent her lifetime squirreling away.

Death snuck up on my mother-in-law. On New Year's Eve, she was out with eight of her widowed friends until after 1 a.m. and 15 days later, we held the funeral service. For at least the next six months, we're going to be sorting through the confusion, trying to decide what Mom would have wanted.

If you're a mom (or a dad), vow not to put your kids through this kind of hell when you go to heaven. Here are 10 pieces of estate planning information they'll need to put you and your affairs to rest.1. Sign a medical power of attorney. And choose someone you trust to carry it out. It's far better for you and the people who love you if you've made critical decisions about aggressive treatment for pain or resuscitation before the time comes.

2. Decide the toughest stuff well in advance. Do you want to be buried or cremated? What do you want done with what's left of you? If you want a viewing, what do you want to wear?

3. Make a will. Dying without a will means that your family will have to rely on the court to divvy up your belongings. Not only is the cost of having a judge manage this process exorbitant, the judge doesn't know who wanted what.

4. Be smart about what you leave behind. Put money in trust for the offspring who can't manage on his own. Leave the house to the offspring who wants to live there. Manage your affairs so the children from your first marriage aren't cut out of the money. Consider the tax consequences and how the people who inherit your money will pay them.

5. Make a list. Detail where you put your will and power of attorney. Include how to find the key to your safety box, the combination to your safe and the pass codes for your email, website and other key online information.

6. File your important papers. Having the title to the house and the car handy, as well as paperwork for annuities, insurance policies, pensions, bank accounts, savings bonds, CDs, etc., will make life much easier for the people you leave behind.

7. Keep your address book up to date. Make sure your loved ones have phone numbers and addresses for all the important people in your life, including the ladies in the bridge group, your cousin in Minnesota, and the name of your accountant.

8. Don't hide things. If you tape money to the bottoms of drawers or stuff your jewelry under the floor boards, everyone will go crazy trying to find it.

9. Share your knowledge. Talk about your memories, your secrets and the family history while you're still around and can answer questions.

10. Don't delay. Tell people you love them before it's too late.

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