The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)

Opinion & Letters to the Editor

January 1, 2014

10 easy-to-do steps to lower economic stress in 2014

(Continued)

8. Plan your estate. It's a subject that makes people uncomfortable, but here is an incontrovertible fact: One day, you will die. Sorry to break the news to you.

What is within your control is the financial picture you leave behind. It could be a simple process that provides comfort to family, or it could be a giant mess.

At the very least, ensure you have a will that details how your assets will be divided. If you have young children, appoint a guardian for their care. If you are among the 5 percent of the country subject to an estate tax, buy "2nd to die" insurance so you don't leave your heirs with a tax bill.

Also, make a living will and appoint a health-care proxy — someone who will make medical decisions for you if you become incapacitated. Many people have important end-of-life preferences, and if you want them followed, write it up. Your estate lawyer can easily do this in addition to your will.

Lastly, get a safety-deposit box. In addition to whatever valuables you keep there, include the latest dated copy of your will and a list of your accounts, online and offline. Include account numbers and passwords.

9. Move your banking online. Set up an auto-pay for your recurring monthly bills. Make other payments online. Make your bank's online platform generate regular reports that you can share with your accountant. This will greatly simplify your life.

10. Consolidate. Finally, take all the accounts you have accumulated over the years and consolidate them. You don't need 401(k) or IRA accounts at five institutions running five strategies. Roll the 401(k) accounts into an IRA, then combine them into one account. You will end up with a clearer financial picture.

That's my list. Taking care of these will allow you to enjoy a happier, more prosperous and stress-free new year.

- - -

Ritholtz is chief investment officer of Ritholtz Wealth Management. He is the author of "Bailout Nation" and runs a finance blog, the Big Picture.

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