A midlife money checkup

Are you still on pace to reach your goals despite today's market woes? Find out by taking this nine-step test of your financial health. It won't hurt a bit.

5. Is your estate plan in order?

DO IT NOW
If you haven't updated these documents in the past five years, pick up the phone and call an estate-planning attorney. You'll pay $300 to $500 for a basic will; a comprehensive package runs $2,000 to $3,000 or more.
5. Is your estate plan in order?
For better or for worse, life has grown more complicated, what with a spouse, kids, a former spouse, free-spending kids, health worries. You've worked hard to protect your family. But if you die or become incapacitated, what will happen? That depends on how well you've handled estate planning.

You probably have a will - by age 50, two out of three Americans do. But that's only a start. When did you last update it? And did you complete other essential paperwork? Probably not.

"You want to be sure your kids and spouse will be taken care of," says Robert Armstrong, president of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys in San Diego. "And you don't want all your money going to your ex-spouse or, worse, her no-good second husband, which all too often is what ends up happening."

Here's what you need:
  • A will: In it you need to designate a guardian for your children if they're younger than 18, as well as a financial guardian for the money they'll inherit (or a trustee if you set up a trust). "You may want to choose different people for these tasks, since they call for different skills," says Bill Knox, a financial adviser with Regent Atlantic in Chatham, N.J. "A guardian must be willing and able to raise your child, while the trustee should be good with money management."
  • Beneficiaries: Name them for your 401(k), IRA and investment accounts. Your will may state that all your money goes to your spouse, but that won't override the beneficiary documents if you've listed someone else.
  • Durable power of attorney: With this document, you give a trusted friend or family member the legal right to manage your affairs if you are disabled.
  • Health-care proxy: Also known as a living will, this document enables a family member to direct your medical care if you can't do so yourself.
  • Living trust: Consider this alternative to a will if you live in a state with slow-moving or costly probate courts. With a living trust, your estate can bypass probate.
  • Trusts for your children In most states, your kids will control any money put in their name at age 18 or 21. Putting their assets in a trust allows you to dictate when they collect or make sure they use the funds for college, not a convertible.
Last updated February 11 2008: 1:33 PM ET

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Market indexes are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer LIBOR Warning: Neither BBA Enterprises Limited, nor the BBA LIBOR Contributor Banks, nor Reuters, can be held liable for any irregularity or inaccuracy of BBA LIBOR. Disclaimer. Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Disclaimer The Dow Jones IndexesSM are proprietary to and distributed by Dow Jones & Company, Inc. and have been licensed for use. All content of the Dow Jones IndexesSM © 2014 is proprietary to Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Chicago Mercantile Association. The market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved. Most stock quote data provided by BATS.
Market indexes are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer LIBOR Warning: Neither BBA Enterprises Limited, nor the BBA LIBOR Contributor Banks, nor Reuters, can be held liable for any irregularity or inaccuracy of BBA LIBOR. Disclaimer. Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Disclaimer The Dow Jones IndexesSM are proprietary to and distributed by Dow Jones & Company, Inc. and have been licensed for use. All content of the Dow Jones IndexesSM © 2014 is proprietary to Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Chicago Mercantile Association. The market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved. Most stock quote data provided by BATS.