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As adults, we protect ourselves and our lives in many ways. We have auto, home, health, and life insurance. We have IRAs, 401Ks, or pension plans for later years. We save or invest money for when we really need it. But one area we tend to ignore or just don't think about is the legal one. For example:

1. A will: You should have a will to specify how your estate will be divided and your family cared for. If you have ever had a relative pass away without a will who may have had some investments or property, you know it can be an unpleasant task to settle that person's estate, particularly if there are other family members who need to be satisfied. Take the time to draw up a will, or have one drawn by a competent attorney and stipulate who gets every item you own no matter how insignificant. It may seem petty, but you will do your heirs a big service. Review it every few years as your life or holdings change and revise it as necessary.

2. A durable power of attorney: Have you ever considered what would happen if you suddenly became incapacitated? You make decisions about your life (particularly financial ones) every day, and you need to legally authorize someone to make those for you should some ill befall you.

3. A living will: Even though you might have given someone power of attorney, there is one decision that no one should have to make for you should that incapacitation become terminal. Set forth details about whether you want to be kept on life-support systems should your condition come to that. It's a decision you need to make for yourself while you have the presence of mind to do so.

4. A health care power of attorney: Coupled with a living will, this authorizes someone to make decisions for you regarding your health care--not life-or-death matters--should you be unable to.

5. A financial inventory: In an emergency, family members or someone with your power of attorney should have access to a list of all your important financial information. This includes account names, numbers, and addresses.

For absolute protection, you should consult an attorney about drawing up most of these documents. However, for the computer literate, there are a few good programs that can guide you through the important steps, and in some cases, will stand as legal documents. Either way, it's time for you to add these items to your important papers.