Get your coffee, a notebook and a pen . . . ok, and a lot of chocolate because what we’re talking about today is by no means fun. But it is crucial to a simply organized life.
Losing a loved one is hard. Whether it is a surprise or somewhat expected, there is the great sadness and deep lasting grief. Even now, I could cry when I think through last year’s loss of my uncle and my grandmother. But in our modern world, the grieving process is not the only thing to be dealt with.
Enter the logistics and legalities of dying in this day and age. After seeing everything that had to be done with my family members’ estates, I can confidently say that handling someone’s estate (being the executor) is a pain. However, it is 50 times worse if the person was not prepared. And if you’ve had to deal with someone’s estate, I’m guessing you already know this.
So, I’d like you to pause for a moment and as un-morbidly as possible, think about those you will leave behind. Think about the grief they will face and then think about the chaos that will ensue if you have not put your affairs in order. They will be grieving and screaming over the frustrations of things they don’t understand and that they, quite possibly, never managed before. They are your accounts and assets, after all.
And this is why I am utterly convinced of one thing: Estate Planning is a gift to those you leave behind. It is time to get your estate in order (<< Tweet This). Whether we’re talking children and guardians, spouses or extended family, you can take steps now to leave less of a headache to those remaining.
So after seeing all the intricacies that my family worked on, I set out to get our estate in order. * PLEASE be aware that everyone’s estate planning may not look like mine because different laws apply depending on which state you live in and what assets you possess. But to get you some idea of what it can entail, I’ll share what I did.
First, I called my attorney. My advice is to find someone you like and trust. I went with the person that handled my grandmother’s estate. She was wonderful! I’d also suggest calling around to find out some basic prices. Attorney fees can vary. I found prices near me to be higher than driving an hour away. And it was quite worth the drive.
When you visit your attorney, take a complete list of your assets so they can properly advise you. If you were with us in January for this series, you already have your Master Account List done! Hooray! Just add any other assets like your house or property and you’re set.
Here is what we addressed:
Last Will & Testament: I already had wills for Dan & I. But our attorney reviewed them and we added an addendum (see Testamentary Trust below). If you have minor children, you will need to consider who their guardian will be in the case of both parents’ deaths.
Health Care Power of Attorney: Already completed, but my attorney reviewed. This allows the person you designate to make medical decisions for you in the event you are incapacitated.
Living Wills: Again, already completed, but now reviewed. A living will gives you the opportunity to state your desires under given medical situations of what steps should or should not be taken.
A Power of Attorney: Usually, I think of POA as someone who can make financial decisions, list real estate, etc. for a person who is elderly. And that is true. But I found out that having this even at my age, should Dan be incapacitated, would allow for me handle things like making financial decisions on accounts that were only in his name (such as retirement accounts, insurance or vice versa for my business).
If bank accounts are not shared (like in most married couples’ accounts), this allows for the POA to write checks and handle the person’s finances. For example, when my grandmother was ill, my mother as POA was able to handle all her finances and pay bills.
I will add that not all POA documents cover everything. When my uncle suddenly died, we had to immediately make my mom the new POA for my grandmother (age 98). For time’s sake, we stopped at an office supply store and picked up a generic form. That worked for awhile, but we discovered that not everyone (one of the banks) would accept it. So we had our attorney draw up a more complete document. See where this gets complicated?
Testamentary Trust: A trust allows for you to specify what your estate can pay out as your children are raised (ie. medical, education, well-being). It can stipulate when your heirs receive the lump sum of your estate and anything else you’d like to include such as autos, college expenses, weddings, etc.
There are options when you consider trusts for your children. Not having anything set up will mean a lot of court involvement for the guardian/trustee as they dole out money to your children. I didn’t choose the trust that would have cost several thousand dollars, but I did go with a Testamentary Trust that would mean less court involvement and an easier task for our guardian (as if raising our children wasn’t going to be enough work).
Bank Accounts: Both of our names should be on every account. For us, because our children our young, we were not to have anyone listed as beneficiary. Rather any account, in case of both of our deaths, would fall to the estate and therefore under the stipulations of the trust.
Property: I had to make sure that the deed on my house listed Joint-Survivorship. Otherwise, in case of my death, Dan would have to put 1/2 the house through probate. Nuts, huh? We were good on this. But for all future deeds, I know to make sure this is listed.
Retirement Accounts: I made sure Dan or I were listed on the other’s retirement accounts as beneficiary and no one else.
My Business (Blog/Ebook): My attorney gave me simple instructions on how to make sure I have a Transfer on Death to my husband. I’m sure other businesses would vary in what needs to be done.
It is amazing, the feeling of having everything in order. I know that when anyone dies, the legalities are complicated. My hope is that it will be a little easier for those we have left behind because our estate is in order.
All that is left for me to do now is to copy everything and distribute to our executor (who is also guardian) and alternate. Lord willing, we won’t need any of this anytime soon. But we are not guaranteed anything in life and I’m leaving this gift to those left behind.
Have you handled someone’s estate? What would you add?
Have you been delaying estate planning? What is keeping you from doing it?
(I know there could be many things, including finances. My encouragement would be to make it a priority and start saving up.)
If you’d like to join us on our 12 month journey to the Simply Organized Life, start here. We’d love to have you!
Disclosure: I am not a lawyer and this should not be considered legal advice. You should seek appropriate counsel for your own situation.
photo credit: Ed Bierman