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New Year’s Legal Resolutions for 2011

Everyone’s compiling their lists looking back on 2010, from best movies and tv shows to top news stories. If you’re in the list-making mood, you’re probably already trying to put together your resolutions for 2011. While shedding those holiday pounds may be at the top of your list, there are other weighty issues to consider, like protecting your family and business legal interests. Luckily, getting the right legal protections is fairly easy, it just requires a little foresight. Here’s our pick for simple (but important) legal resolutions for the new year:

1. Discover your Legal Needs

It’s hard to tackle your legal needs if you don’t even know what they are. You may already have some idea where your weak points are, but have no idea how to approach them. The key is to narrow down your needs to manageable tasks, like completing certain documents. One way of determining which documents are right for you is to take a Legal Check Up, which creates a checklist of legal documents that match your particular personal and business situation. The internet is also a useful research tool when it comes to finding out what sort of legal help you may need. Once you have all your information, you can set out specific tasks for yourself, making it easier for you to accomplish them and check them off the list.

2. Do your Estate Planning

It’s not the most cheery thing to think about, but isn’t that what these resolutions are about— taking care of the difficult things, or the ones you’d rather put off? Estate Planning can be fairly simple, as long as you have a clear idea of what you want to accomplish. For example, writing a Will is something you can easily do on your own. Then again, if you have a fairly complicated family and property situation, be prepared to call in an expert. The peace of mind is worth the money.

On a similar note, use the law to take control of your health. Documents like a Power of Attorney or Living Will allow you to designate what sort of treatments you’d like, and who should be in charge of your medical care, if you are ever unable to make medical decisions for yourself. Meet with your doctor to figure out what sort of Advance Health Care Directive would be right for you, and to decide on end of life care.

3. Take Care of your Family

Family can bring many joys, and just as many (occasionally legal) headaches. Everyone’s family is different, so there’s no one-size-fits-all list of familial resolutions, but there are some basic areas to pay attention to.

If you just got engaged over the holidays, ask your partner for a Prenup. At the opposite end of the spectrum, if you’re getting a Divorce, create a calendar of when each piece of paperwork is due. Maybe this is the year you’re planning on setting up a Trust for your kids, or you’ll finally buy/sell that house. Or, maybe you’re beginning to realize your parents are getting older, and it’s time to talk to them about financial planning for their final years. Whatever your issue, there are documents and lawyers that can help.

4. Bullet-Proof your Business

Whether you have a resolution to start a business, or you already own one, it’s never too early or too late to make your company secure. The first thing to consider is incorporating your business to reduce your liability and help your business’ profile. If you’re going to incorporate (whether as a corporation, an LLC, or a non-profit), you’ll definitely want to start creating a paper trail to maintain tax compliance. Start asking for everything in writing, from invoices to licensing and employment agreements. Create and keep track of corporate minutes. Oh, and don’t forget to register your trademark!

Even if you don’t own a business, you can protect yourself by keeping track of all your business-related documents, like copies of contracts, so that they’re on hand-hand when you need them.

5. Get Organized

The previous lesson on organization applies to just about everyone. No matter what your situation, you probably need to update some of your personal records. There’s no one right way to organize your documents— hard-copies in filing drawers or cloud-based documents in virtual files— so long as you find your system easy to use. It may even help you to write out what your organizational system is in case you need family, friends or business partners to retrieve something for you.

There’s another upside to getting all your legal and financial documents organized: you’ll be much more prepared for tax season. And honestly, having a relaxing April is a resolution we can all stand behind.

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