We’ve all seen the movies where the family is gathered in the study of the mansion. The family lawyer say “I’ve called you all here for the reading of the will of Mrs. Ada Quimby.” There is silence that could be cut with a knife as the lawyer reveals the secret wishes of the recently deceased. There is usually some great surprise that causes a person who thought they were a favored son or daughter to grimace.
While this makes for great cinema, it makes for a lot of heart ache on your heirs in real life. You want your gifts to be a blessing, not a curse. If you keep everything secret and appoint one of your poor children as personal representative or trustee, you leave them in the position of documentary archeology, digging through your things trying to figure out what assets you have and what you wanted done with them. Even worse, if your wishes are not clear it may spark a vast family feud where all of assets become pay for lawyers. Worst of all, if you leave no will it is up to the state to figure out what to do with your things – a process that can take years.
Think what would happen if you died right now. Do you have a will? Would people know where to find it?
How hard would it be for people to find the title to your car? The deed to your house? Your safe deposit box? Your life insurance policies?
Do you have some valuable collectibles that might be tossed in the trash as junk or sold for $0.10 at a yard sale? Do you have an item that you would like one of your children to have but that your children might fight over if they don’t know your wishes?
Do you have anything hidden in the walls or buried in the backyard that would be sold with the house?
Right now. Today. Start putting your things in order. Specifically:
1. Write a will and keep it current. There are numerous places online that offer forms or pay an estate attorney a few hundred dollars to get one drawn up. Be sure to use an estate attorney as it is a somewhat specialized field.
2. Check your plans with a CPA to see if there is anything you’re doing that would result in payment of more taxes than you should.
3. Make a list of assets and instructions for selling of any speciality items. Place this in a file or drawer with important documents such as home deeds, car titles, life insurances policies, etc…. Don’t forget to include information on any safe deposit boxes.
4. If you are leaving minor children, be sure you have enough money given to those who would take care of them in your death so that they can have the life you want them to have. If you don’t have enough money in the bank, buy term life insurance. It is not expensive. Think about all of their needs, like clothing, college, food, and other necessities. Also think if the people who would take them would require a larger house or an addition and include directions in your will that some of the money be used for that purpose. AMounts ont he order of $500,000-$1 million may be needed.
5. Tell them about it. Give a copy of your will to your personal representative before your death. Maybe go over it with them. If you are leaving children to someone, tell them. Also, tell about monies that you will be giving them for the children’s care. Maybe also discuss your hopes for their care and maybe leave a letter with your instructions.
6. Also, if you are cutting someone out, tell them about it. It is not right to leave your personal representative or trustee to do your dirty work. Remember that they will be in grief at your passing – they don’t need other things to worry about.
7. Think about prepaying for your funeral. Right after you die your assets may be frozen, leaving your heirs in the time of their grief trying to find several thousand dollars to have you buried. The best way to get your wishes is to have everything arranged so that your heirs just need to attend. If you don’t want to prepay, think about putting money in a CD for the purpose and giving it to your personal representative or making other arrangements.
8. Designate as much as possible directly to beneficiaries when you open accounts and keep them up to date. When you die they will have access to these funds much faster than if you do not designate beneficiaries.
No one likes to think about their death. There is nothing cute though about saddling your heirs with cleaning up your messes. It is the responsible thing to do to have a good plan in place and have things in order for when the inevitable comes.
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Disclaimer: This blog is not meant to give financial planning advice, it gives information on a specific investment strategy and picking stocks. It is not a solicitation to buy or sell stocks or any security. Financial planning advice should be sought from a certified financial planner, which the author is not. All investments involve risk and the reader as urged to consider risks carefully and seek the advice of experts if needed before investing.