For Clients: Anticipating the Worst is One of The Best Ways to Secure Loved Ones' Futures

NEW YORK -- "Financial planning is not just for the elderly, the ailing or the rich," says Bob Lawrence, Partner and Chairman of the Private Client Department at Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft, America's oldest and one of the world's leading financial services law firms.

Like many of the families affected by the September 11 attacks, the young and healthy, in general, are not concerned with planning for tragedies. However, regardless of age, health, or how much money one has, thinking ahead protects yourself and your children ensuring that whatever personal belongings and assets you do have will go to designated family members or beneficiaries.

In the long run, financial planning saves an incredible amount of time, money and emotional distress for those left behind.

According to Lawrence, the following is a list of important reasons to start financial planning now:

1. Make a Will. Without one, the process of financial closure and recovery is lengthier and much more complicated. If you die without a Will, an individual, usually one of your relatives, will have to bring a court proceeding to become the administrator of your estate, subject to court approval. The process will be delayed if more than one person wants to be the administrator.

-- Consider that when you die without a Will, your assets are distributed among your relatives by the administrator in proportions determined under state laws, and thus not necessarily as you may have wished.

-- Also, with a Will in place you can designate the person best suited to be the guardian of your minor children, without a Will, a court proceeding determines who the guardian should be. Again, there will be complications if more than one person wants to be the guardian.

2. Make and maintain records. Keep your records together (a copy of your Will and information on where the original is held, bank account numbers, safe-deposit-box information, insurance beneficiary forms, etc.) and keep them in one, safe place that both you and your partner have easy access to.

-- Keep a record of amounts of all debts, including mortgages, car loans, business loans, student loans, and credit card accounts.

-- Include a list of assets with detailed information about real estate, savings, investments, life insurance policies, 401(k) accounts, IRA accounts, pension and retirement accounts, artwork, antiques, jewelry, ownership interest in a business, etc.

3. Stay current. Update your files once a year. Be sure to check things like life insurance policies to insure that the designated beneficiary names are current and correct. Doing this gives both you and your partner a joint understanding of what you have, keeping both you and your partner informed. If you do not currently have life insurance, you may consider purchasing insurance to replace lost earnings in the event of your death. Also consider transferring your life insurance to a trust. This would permit the insurance proceeds to pass estate tax-free to your descendants.

4. Power of Attorney. You and your partner should give power of attorney over the other's assets in the event that one of you is incapacitated. You should also establish what you would like your partner to do in the event that one of you needs to be kept on life support.

Anticipating tragedy may be one of the most important bits of financial planning you can do. It's never too early to think ahead.