You made a list and checked it twice, and now it’s time to evaluate your life’s checklist. The New Year provides us with a breath of fresh air — a moment to step back from the hustle and bustle of the everyday routine and take stock of everything around us. Embrace this time to ensure that everyone and everything important in your life is healthy and in check.
Schedule Health Check Ups
’Twas the season for celebrating and indulging, so there’s no time like the present to make sure your family’s doctor visits are in order. According to the Centers For Disease Control And Prevention (CDC) Web site, “Regular health exams and tests can help find problems before they start. They also can help find problems early, when your chances for treatment and cure are better.” Men and women alike should schedule regular dental check ups and cleanings, and check their cholesterol and blood pressure levels, diabetes risk, colorectal cancer risk, and — especially in California — skin cancer risk. Women should screen for breast and cervical cancer, while men should schedule a prostate cancer screening.
For children, too, the CDC states that “routine check ups help identify ways to stay healthy and help find health problems early, when chances for treatment are better. Vaccinations help prevent many diseases and save lives. Keep track of your and your family’s check ups and vaccinations to make sure they stay current.”
Schedule Vet Visits
Like us, Fido and Felix require regular check ups. To begin, take a good, long look at your loved one to see if anything seems out of the ordinary. Is your pet carrying extra weight? Is he scratching to no end? “Keeping your pet trim and fit is a great way to keep your own resolutions,” notes Eloise Christopher, owner of Pets in Paradise Ranch Resort in Lake Hodges. “Keeping our pets’ meals the correct size (as well as our own) ensures everyone stays on the proper weight track.” In addition, “not only can groomers keep a doggie diva looking her finest, they can also help detect any skin conditions or dental problems.”
Inspect Your Home
Your family has left town, and left behind heavy wear and tear on your flooring. Schedule a steam cleaning for your carpet or professional polishing for your wood floors. Furthermore, “this is a great time to inspect your home for potential hazards,” advises Ken Stern of Ken Stern & Associates. “Consider removing throw rugs and tacking down loose carpeting.” Be sure to also check smoke alarm batteries to ensure they are still working, and inspect your emergency kit, which should contain water, canned foods, a working flashlight, an AM/FM radio, first aid supplies, and a blanket.
Evaluate Your Car
We drive in them every day, and yet we often neglect their regular care and maintenance. There are numerous elements that are crucial to your car’s health and your safety. Depending on your model, check your oil every 3,000-5,000 miles. This is also a great time to check all vital fluid levels. Experts suggest a tire rotation every 7,500 miles, or around every other oil change. Be sure to also check tire pressure — this not only affects fuel efficiency, it is also a crucial safety issue. Incorrect tire pressure will compromise cornering, braking, and stability.
Evaluate College Funds
College costs are continually on the rise. “Consider starting a 529 College Plan for your kids or grandkids,” says Stern. “The amounts in these plans are not part of the child or parent’s net worth. If monies are used for qualified education expenses, the funds inside of the plan may grow tax-free and may be withdrawn tax-free.”
Review Your Insurance Policies
“Every year insurance policies need to be looked at and updated,” notes Michael O’Riordan of Rancho Santa Fe’s O’Riordan & Associates. “Make sure to review policy status and values, take advantage of new tax benefits, and check to see if all payments are up to date so your policies don’t lapse.”
“With home prices dropping and money short, it is important to review the insurance coverage that you are carrying on your home,” notes Kevin D. Hoyle, CIMA of San Diego-based HoyleCohen. “You may find that you can lower the insurance coverage on your home while still maintaining replacement coverage, thereby saving on premiums. You should also review property taxes to see if you can apply to the county for a reassessment of your property in order to reduce your property tax bill.”
“Life insurance is particularly important if you have young children and need to assure their future and their education costs,” advises Erik Jenkins of local boutique law firm Fuller Jenkins. “There are some new tax laws related to the way estates are taxed that may affect how much insurance you need and in what form you want to carry it. As part of your annual estate review you should talk with your attorney about your potential tax burden from estate tax, the needs of the loved ones you will leave behind, and the best products to provide those benefits.”
Review Your Asset Allocations
“With the market having realized significant declines, it’s important for investors to rebalance their asset allocations to bring them back within tolerances of their risk exposure,” says Hoyle. “It is imperative to bring the various asset classes back to the percentages that you originally intended them to be in order to maintain your risk profile.”
Create/Revisit Your Will
Your will is vital as it protects your assets as well as your loved ones. If you are creating a will for the first time, be aware that “there are many technical rules and significant tax implications related to estate planning,” notes Jenkins. “Prepare a list of the assets and accounts you own, so that your heirs know where to look. W.C. Fields famously died with bank accounts all over the country, but only he knew where they were. That wasn’t very helpful once he died and no one knew where to look for his money.”
If you are revisiting your will, remember that tax laws are constantly changing. “This is particularly important this year as longstanding financial institutions cease to exist,” notes Jenkins.
“Your will or estate plan may specify assets that no longer exist. A quick review will make sure that your most important financial assets can be easily identified for your heirs. Preventive review is much less expensive than litigation to resolve estate issues after your demise.”
Whatever your personal situation, take a step back and evaluate your life’s inventory. Be grateful for all that you do have, and make the moves to ensure that you achieve your goals and that everything around you continues to thrive in 2009. Happy New Year! MIA STEFANKO