Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Organize Your Estate Planning Documents

If, like so many, you are prone to disorder in the keeping of important documents, assuming that you keep them at all, you may be well past due for a makeover of your estate plan and your end of life instructions. It is not just a matter of maintaining tidiness for its own sake: a lot of money and time could be saved by making your estate plan organized and accessible and then keeping it that way.

Yes, it is easier said than done, but consider a quick fact if you doubt the importance of this undertaking: According to some sources that study such things, state treasurers now hold over $32 billion (not million) dollars in unclaimed bank accounts and other such assets.

Then there is the prevalent problem of some large insurance companies failing to pay out unclaimed life insurance policies to beneficiaries, claiming that under the insurance contracts they are obligated to do so only when the beneficiaries come forward. When the beneficiaries are not even aware of the existence of the policies, obviously they do not come forward, and years of premiums may have been paid for nothing.

The take away lesson is that it is just as important to keep estate planning documents well organized and in a safe place, known to and accessible by your heirs, as it is to properly execute the documents in the first place. Any virtue can become a vice if taken to extremes, so this does not mean holding on to every scrap of paper that could conceivably be of interest to those you leave behind. Nonetheless, to possibly save your heirs a significant amount of money, time, and stress, at least the essential documents should be kept together, such as with your attorney, in a safe deposit box, and/or at home in a fireproof safe that someone can access when the time comes. Instructions on how to dispose of your estate will not mean much if you have not left instructions on how to find the controlling documents.

Essential Documents to Organize
So what are these essential documents that you should have well organized and accessible? Individual circumstances vary, but the first document for most people is an original will. Dying without a will means leaving the determination up to the state as to how your assets will be distributed, and if there is some writing, but not an original document, probate proceedings could become needlessly contentious and drawn out.
In addition to a will (and any trust documents), what follows is a nonexhaustive, but reasonably comprehensive, list of other important documents, the existence and location of which should be known to your heirs:
  • Marriage license—A surviving spouse is likely to need it to prove that he or she was married to the deceased before being able to claim anything based on the marriage;
  • Divorce papers;
  • Durable health care power of attorney (for health care decisions if you are incapacitated), a living will, any do not resuscitate order, and an authorization to release health care information;
  • Durable financial power of attorney (for financial decisions if you are incapacitated);
  • Documentation of ownership of property, including housing, land, cemetery plots, vehicles, stocks, bonds, etc.;
  • Proof of loans made and debts owed;
  • List of bank and brokerage accounts, with account numbers, and any safe deposit boxes with the location of corresponding keys;
  • Tax returns for the most recent three years;
  • Life insurance policies and 401(k), pension, annuity, and IRA documents; and
  • List of user names and passwords for Internet accounts.

The foregoing information is presented by KLEIN LAW CORPORATION as a news reporting service to clients and friends of the firm and is distributed with the understanding that  KLEIN LAW CORPORATION is not rendering legal advice and assumes no liability whatsoever in connection with its use.  If you have questions about the subject matter presented or desire to obtain more information on legal issues related to your business, please contact us at (949) 453-7979 or email us at .

Frequently Asked Questions


How do you bill clients?
While we do maintain an hourly billing rate, our Firm offers several alternatives to the traditional hourly-based rate.  For example approximately 60% of our work is billed as a quoted price range or a flat fee project, such as our popular “General Counsel” program.  These alternatives serve to remove much of the uncertainty over costs out of the professional relationship. 

How long have you been practicing law? 
Our firm was founded by Mark D. Klein, Esq. who has over 25 years direct experience in serving the needs of business owners while our staff has ample experience in rendering assistance to our clients.

What makes your services cost-effective?
Cost-benefit analysis is done on all legal recommendations to ensure that the advice we render makes good economic, as well as legal, sense. Recommendations, that may otherwise not be implemented due to budgetary constraints of clients, can be altered or right sized for the client.  On many projects, we are able to offer several viable alternatives based upon the client’s budget.

What distinguishes your firm from other law firms?
Often times practical, yet results not yielding more money to us, our recommended to clients, reflecting our commitment to a long term relationship rather than a short term payday. At KLEIN LAW CORPORATION, we understand that our responsibilities are to be available to you, whatever the circumstances, and to produce cost-effective, high quality work in a timely manner.  We do so by adhering to certain fundamental principles which we call our Big 7 .

Do you specialize in any particular areas?  Corporate finance, intellectual property, business/commercial transactions, estate planning and dispute resolution.

With how many business owners have you worked?
We are proud to have professionally participated in the establishment and growth of over 300 businesses.

What if I have a problem that is outside your firm’s areas of practice? 
We maintain a finely tuned network of professionals, both attorneys and other service providers, who stand ready to bring their skills to bear to assist our clients.

Do you specialize in any industry segments? 
We routinely meet the demanding challenges of a diverse group of domestic and foreign clients from a broad spectrum of industries.  The Firm’s has assisted clients in the finance, manufacturing, distribution, computer/high-tech, construction, professional service providers, and service sector businesses.

What is your approach to litigation when such becomes necessary?  Initially it must be pointed out that our Firm’s up-front involvement in major business decisions and projects allows for early identification and minimization of potential problems.  Furthermore, we actively promote litigation alternatives such as negotiation and mediation when disputes can not be avoided given our Firm’s philosophy that traditional litigation, with its exorbitant costs and time delays, rarely makes good business sense.  However, should litigation become necessary, we partner up with seasoned litigation co-counsel to aggressively litigate your matter.

When are good times to consult with my attorney?
Prior to the formation of a new business enterprise, prior to a purchase or sale of a business, prior to entering into a contract, at the early stage of a business dispute.

What should I expect from my attorney?
Your attorney should be willing to wear several hats by serving as an educator, advisor, counselor,  communicator, representative and an advocate, depending on the situation.
Do you offer a complimentary initial consultation?
We routinely offer our BUSINESS RISK ASSESSMENT program on a complimentary basis which enables a business owner to receive an assessment along with concrete recommendation for his or her businesses.  For non-business owners we are please to offer a initial one-hour consultation. [Please see Contact Us to submit an inquiry or schedule an appointment to meet with one of our attorneys].