If you live long enough, you’re going to have a family member or close friend die. Compounding an already sad and stressful event, a person’s passing means that someone needs to take over their affairs—which is not a small job. Here are the things you need to do to be prepared.
Over the last two years I’ve had several family members and friends pass away. It is one of those really hard periods in one’s life. Most people go before we are ready or have had a chance to say goodbye. Its not easy.
Even though I’m not an estate planning attorney, I often get the calls from family members who are trying to sort things out. The best situations involve those who planned ahead by taking steps now to make things easier for their heirs. However, there have been others who didn’t plan and their Executor (the person named in a will who is authorized on the deceased’s behalf to take actions) is then saddled with an even bigger job than normal.
I’ve been told that estate planning attorneys have a joke: “If there is someone you don’t like, make them your Executor.” The reason is it’s a big administrative job.
So, what can you do? –Prepare your estate planning documents today. If you are married, you’ll generally need one of each of the following documents:
A will specifies who gets your worldly belongings. Your home, car, jewelry, collectibles, and other important personal items are often specified in a will. This can help eliminate family disputes over who gets what, which can be really helpful during what is often an emotional period.
Durable Financial Power of Attorney
If you are hospitalized and unable to communicate your wishes or sign documents, a durable financial power of attorney can be really helpful. The document authorizes another person, usually a trusted family member or close friend to make financial decisions and sign papers if you are unable to. Think of being in a comma but your family needs money to pay your medical or other bills. A durable financial power of attorney would be really helpful here.
Health Care Proxy
Like a durable power of attorney, a health care proxy authorizes another person to make health care decisions when you are not able to. It can also specify what life sustaining steps you want taken if you are incapacitated. Do you want all possible means and expense made if there is only a remote chance of you surviving or recovering? You can specify your wishes in this document. Having a health care proxy in place can easy your family’s burden of making a really big health care decision about you because they will know what you want done.
Revocable trust or living will
Years ago hearing about a “trust” seemed like something that only rich people set up. Today, revocable trusts can significantly simplify the transfer and disposition of your assets at death. If your accounts with significant assets are set up as a revocable trust, those assets typically will not have to be probated which is the legal process for settling your estate. Assets flow through directly to the beneficiaries of the revocable trust. Better still, while you are alive, you maintain full control of your revocable trust.
There are other types of trusts too which can help with special or unique circumstances such as teenagers that stand to inherit substantial sums or children with special needs.
Your estate documents should be reviewed any time you have a major life change and updated at least every 10 years to be sure it is current with your wishes.
Keep in mind that settling your estate typically falls under state laws. So, you’ll want to consult an attorney in your state of legal residence. Also, we’re not attorneys. To prepare these documents, we can suggest several experienced estate planning attorneys that will meet your needs.
What about legal software?
A number of companies sell legal software that you can use to prepare these documents. While most insist that their documents will work in all 50 states, I’d sure hate to find out that there is an unenforceable aspect of a will or trust after I’m gone (Okay, I wouldn’t know if I’m already gone—but still).
Software may be okay if your estate is small, very straightforward, and simple. But for most folks we work with, that is not the case. Besides, when your close family member or friend is gone, do you want to be calling a toll-free 800 number for help or going to see that loved one’s estate planning attorney? That attorney probably knows a lot more about the deceased.
If you additional questions about how to be prepared when someone dies, give us a call, we’re here to help. You can schedule a quick call with me by clicking HERE.
Lyman H. Jackson Lyman@PlanWithFPS.com
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