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financial literacy
Estate planning for everyone

"The regular power of attorney gives to the person who has the power, power to take anything they want from you," Blatt says. "They could literally go to your bank and say give me all the money. The springing requires you to become truly incapacitated first. So most people like the springing power of attorney."

Married persons with separate accounts will have difficulty accessing their spouse's account without this power. Says Gjertsen: "Let's say there's an account in the husband's name. If his wife calls and says, 'My husband's in the hospital and I need to move some money from this account,' then there's nothing I can do for her. That may seem unreasonable, but now let's consider the nefarious alternative where a wife says, 'Could you please cut a $100,000 check from my husband's account,' and then she runs off."

4. Wills 
Everyone, even Gilligan, should at minimum have a will, according to our experts. And even though it works in Hollywood, don't count on a simple, handwritten note to do the job. Called a holographic will, such a note is as flimsy as a grass hut in a hurricane -- and it's expensive to prove its authenticity.

The last will and testament appoints a personal representative or an executor to administer the estate. The will controls your tangible personal property and determines who receives items, such as furniture, jewelry, art, boats and cars.

"It's my goal never to let a client die without a will," says Gjertsen. "However, wills become exceptionally important for couples with kids." This is partially because wills also appoint a recommendation for guardianship of your children.

"It befuddles me that some of my peers don't have a will. I say, 'You've got kids. Your kids are 13 or 10 -- who's going to take care of them?'" he says.

People have misconceptions about how guardianship of their children will be handled in the absence of a will.


"They think it's already decided, but it's not. If something happens to you and your spouse, the court decides who gets the kids. And my guess is, if both of you are gone, as much as your parents may get along, when it comes to the kids there's going to be a fight, especially if there's a lot of money involved," says Gjertsen. "Look at the Anna Nicole Smith ordeal. Not to bring tabloid stuff in, but it's a great example of why estate planning is so important."

Curtis Chen, a certified financial planner at Chen Financial Group in Belmont, Calif., agrees. "If there's a fight, the kids are in foster care until the court decides who gets them. They wouldn't go to the grandparents or another family member in the meantime. You'd rather choose somebody that you know, that might not be perfect, than have the court decide."

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