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New Year's Resolution: Don’t Procrastinate; Plan Your Estate!


Happy 2014! While we are all energized by the fresh start the New Year provides, one important item to include in your list of resolutions is to create or review your estate plan. To help, consider these 10 questions:

  1. Where is my original will? It is important to know who has your original will, make sure your family knows where to find your will, and confirm that it is secure.
  2. Are my will and/or trust up to date in terms of my family, gifts, and executor/trustee? If you have a new child or grandchild, a family member has died, or you have married or divorced, it is especially important to update your estate plan. If your executor/trustee is not still the best person for the job, name someone new.
  3. Have I named a guardian for my children? If your children are young, deciding who should take care of them and who should manage money for them are critical elements in your estate plan.
  4. Are my beneficiary designations up to date? Some property is not governed by your will and will be given to the beneficiaries you name. If you have named a beneficiary, that will trump what your will provides. So it is important to know what property will be transferred by beneficiary designation and make sure you have named the beneficiaries you want. Examples of assets that use beneficiary designations are life insurance, IRAs, 401(k)s and accounts that are “transfer on death” or “payable on death.” If you haven’t looked at your beneficiary designations in a long time, now is a good time.
  5. Do I have a plan for my business? Set up a plan for the management and transfer of your business. Consider the impact a careful plan will have for your heirs, employees and customers.
  6. Is my power of attorney old? Make sure your power of attorney is recent.
  7. Do my financial institutions have preferred forms of power of attorney? Your durable power of attorney may be valid, but some financial institutions have their own form of power of attorney. Ask for and use their form whenever it is appropriate, and keep it updated.
  8. Do I have health care advance directives, and do my doctor and my health care representative have copies? Name the person who should represent you if you cannot speak for yourself, and let your doctors know how you feel about end of life medical care.
  9. Do I have a plan for the care of my pets? Name the person who you would like to care for your pets, and consider providing a gift for their care.
  10. Is my financial and personal information organized? If not, try the Estate Planning Organizer on the “Process” page of my website.

If you live or weekend in Litchfield County, Connecticut and need help with creating or updating your estate plan, contact me for a consultation. May you achieve all of your goals for 2014!

About the Author

Mary Schinke

Mary has practiced law in New York since 1991 and in Connecticut since 2004. A Harvard Law School graduate and former corporate attorney, she has built her solo practice around helping individuals, couples, and families plan for the transfer of property, as well as guiding executors and families through the estate administration process when a loved one has died.

  • Mary Schinke provided expert guidance to me and my sons about estate planning, powers of attorney and healthcare proxies.  She was excellent at consulting each party as to their individual needs and then following up to assure alignment of my estate plan to theirs.

    M. Davis, New York, New York and Washington, Connecticut

  • Mary Schinke provided excellent guidance to me and my co-executor as we navigated the probate process, resolving an estate with many loose ends. It would have been impossible for us executors to navigate the issues without Mary—she patiently explained every legal obligation to us, and carefully led us in resolving debt issues and distributions. In preparing the paperwork for the court, Mary ensured that the most accurate information would be conveyed. Mary carefully prepared for every meeting, and had all the time in the world for us when we met with her. Her cheerful “can do” attitude went a long way in getting us past the knotty issues. We are grateful to have worked with Mary! 

    L. Pistell, Summit, New Jersey & S. Beard, Blandford, Massachusetts

  • I appreciated Mary's exceptional service. Mary was calm and clear throughout the process, making it far less onerous than I had anticipated.

                                                                                                                      - S. Albrecht, Canton, Connecticut

  • Mary is a lawyer's lawyer. Incredible knowledge, completely trustworthy with a particular expertise in trust and estate work. As a partner in a same sex relationship, Mary's time and advice in helping us properly plan for the inevitable was priceless. And did I mention her comforting, humorous and loving manner? Simply the best.

    P. Healy, Roxbury, Connecticut & New York, New York

  • I wasn’t looking forward to making my will, but working with Mary made the process easy and comfortable. She is calm, thoughtful, and easy to understand.  Mary also helped me through the process of serving as an Executor.  She demystified the process and was a delight to work with. Mary will remain my cherished counsel and confidant, not only in law but also in my life.

    M. Richardson, Southbury, Connecticut

  • Mary is always thoughtful, thorough and a true pleasure to work with.

    C. Haver & S. Skolnick, Roxbury, Connecticut

  • When my husband died Mary helped me settle his affairs. Working with her, the process was smooth and easy to understand. Mary’s caring manner was a comfort to me during a difficult time.

    J. Omenson, Roxbury, Connecticut

  • Mary was not only thorough and professional, but always kind and willing to go the extra mile.

    R. Hocking, New York, New York

  • I have nothing but good things to say about my attorney, Mary Schinke. Not only is she an 
    excellent lawyer who covers all bases in an accurate and comprehensive manner, but is also a
    compassionate and kind person.  I heartily recommend her.

    M. Garfin, Southbury, Connecticut

  • Mary always made us feel very comfortable with the process and her effort.

    D. Hocking, New Rochelle, New York

  • Mary, thank you so much for all you’ve done. Your compassionate warmth and professionalism have been so important to me.

    J. Taylor, Southbury, Connecticut

  • Mary is very easy to work with.  Her deep and broad knowledge and experience helped us get our wills and other important life documents completed.  And we actually had a good time doing it!

    L. Apolzon & J. Stanton, Roxbury, Connecticut & New York, New York