With the new year upon us, I thought I would pass along a few suggestions which will make it less likely to avoid ending up in a case like the ones I like to report on in this blog. Law, like medicine, is best practiced preventively so here are a few pointers.

First is the obvious suggestion that you have a periodic review of your financial affairs with a competent tax advisor. Our tax laws are a constant work in progress. Even minor revisions may have a significant effect on your estate. This is especially so if you have not had such a review in several years since your own personal fortunes may have changed as significantly as the laws. When you have your consultation, make sure you not only provide information about your assets but also about the agreements (for example, business buy sell agreements, partnerships and matrimonial agreements) which often control them.

Hand in hand with your review of your finances should be a review of your will with your attorney. The will you threw in a desk drawer (shame on you for not putting it in a fireproof place)and last looked at when your thirty four year old doctor-son was in third grade is about as out of style as that leisure suit you wore on new year’s eve that same year. The only difference is that the leisure suit won’t hurt you but the old will can be costly indeed. Review it not only in light of your new financial situation and the tax laws but also in light of the changes which have taken place in your family since then.

Check your bank accounts. Joint accounts with folks you no longer like or bankbooks marked in trust for children who have fallen from grace need to be attended to.

Make sure that your insurance policies list the beneficiaries you want them to list. World War II GIs had the opportunity to purchase GI life insurance policies. Many of them listed their sweethearts as their beneficiaries only to die peacefully in their eighties, long married to other women and not their originally-listed beneficiaries. Many never thought to change their beneficiaries so their widows never received the policy proceeds.

Make sure you periodically review your IRAs and other retirement plans to insure that the proper beneficiaries are listed. Occasionally, changes you might have previously made may not always have always been preserved. While the stock brokers and insurance companies that administer these plans are getting better at recording and preserving these changes, if you haven’t reviewed the information on file with your retirement plan administrator in the past ten years or so, it might be a good idea to do so now or a former spouse or disinherited child might still be in line to receive the plan benefits should you die before receiving them yourself.

The most important suggestion I can possibly give you to keep you out of the estate matters I report on here is to stay alive! Lose weight. Join a gym and actually go there on a regular basis. Have that physical and do something to reduce the stress that haunts all of us in our daily routines.

Enjoy yourself and have a happy, healthy and prosperous new year!