Friday, August 27, 2021

Estate Planning Can Help Heirs Handle Your Affairs Even Before You Die

If you are suddenly hospitalized, or pass away, would your adult children or other heirs be able to figure out what accounts and assets you have, ongoing services which need to be canceled, bills that needed to be paid, and other important information?  Would they know who to notify if you are in the hospital or have died, including friends, landlords, and employers?  Is there someone you trust to have access to your bank accounts in case of an emergency?  Are your heirs aware of what treatments you would accept in the hospital, or whether you have a Do Not Resuscitate order? Do they know if you have a long-term care insurance policy, in case you need to go into a nursing home?  Do your heirs know your funeral preferences or where to find your will and trust?

Most of us would not want to leave our children with a chaotic financial mess to handle if we suddenly become sick, seriously injured, or die, but it happens all the time.  An expected illness or death is difficult enough.  However, when your heirs also have to spend countless hours unraveling the details of your life after an unexpected event, it could overwhelm them.

"In the Event of Your Death" Binder

One solution my husband and I chose to implement was to put together a binder we labeled "In the Event of Our Deaths."  While this notebook would not completely answer all the questions our children might have if we are incapacitated or die, it would certainly help them get started.  We used the notebook to pull together all the information we thought our adult daughters would need if we were unable to take care of our affairs, either temporarily or long-term.  In addition to this notebook, we have also given one of our daughters log-in information for our computers, with access to our bank accounts.

Here is some of the information we put into the binder:

Copies of Our Wills and Trusts
Funeral Arrangement Info
Burial Plot Receipt
List of Who to Contact in the Event of our Deaths
Life Insurance policies
Medical Insurance Info
List of bank and brokerage accounts
Advanced Health Care Directives
Copies of our Driver's Licenses, passports, and other documents

How Else Can We Help Our Heirs Handle our Affairs?

Putting that notebook together will certainly be a big help to our children if something happens to us.  However, it is not the only steps we had to take in order to make things easier for our children or other heirs.  What else should everyone do in order to be well prepared in an emergency?

* Give a copy of the major documents in your notebook to the executor of your will, so they have the information they need, even if they live in another city, or if something happens to you while you are traveling.

Discuss your end of life wishes with ALL of your children or heirs.  This is one way you can reduce the discord between family members if you are unable to speak for yourself, or if you die.  Let them know important things such as whether or not you want to be cremated, and how you want your remains handled afterwards.

Prepare a Heathcare Directive.  In addition to an executor of your will, you also will need a healthcare agent to make decisions for you.  This can be the same family member, or a different person, especially if you are concerned that it may be difficult for your family member to make the hard decisions about your end-of-life care.  Make sure the people you choose for these important jobs know that you have appointed them to these positions and ask them if they feel they will be able to carry out the necessary duties involved.

Sign a Power of Attorney. Make sure you have someone who can handle your finances for you, if you become unable to do so.  You will want an attorney to draw up a durable power of attorney so this person can act on your behalf.  As long as you are mentally competent, you can revoke the durable power of attorney at any time.  It will also automatically end when you die.  You can pick a family member or, if you do not have someone you think would be able to handle this task, you can choose a bill payer service.  Your attorney can help you find someone.

Discuss your bequests and other plans with all your heirs. Make sure everyone knows how your personal property will be passed on to them.  Does someone have a favorite painting, antique, or piece of jewelry they would like to have when you are gone?  Put in writing any special items you are bequeathing to someone, and make that information available to all your heirs.  It will dramatically reduce misunderstandings after you are gone, especially if you are fair to everyone, so no one feels that another family member was treated better than the others.

Estate Planning Documents

You can get your documents prepared by an attorney, and the attorney can also give you advice about who should be your executor and handle other decisions.  He can also provide you with other paperwork you may need.

If your estate is simple and you just want the documents completed, you can find do-it-yourself wills, trusts and other documents online. (Ad) There are a wide variety of online choices to help you get your estate planning organized.  Even if you do not have a lot to pass on to your spouse, children or other heirs, it will be so helpful to them if everything is put into writing, including your end-of-life wishes.

Keep Your Information Up-to-Date

It is important to keep the information in your End of Life Notebook current.  Over the course of a few years, you may move, change your job, open new accounts or even get a new grandchild.   Some of the people on your notification list may have died.  It is important to go through your notebook at least once a year and update anything that might have changed.  It is easy to let that slip, but it is very important.  Time gets away from us all.  However, your notebook will only be helpful as long as the information in it is correct.  

Relax and Enjoy Your Family

Once these details have been worked out, you will feel relieved.  You will be able to enjoy your family visits without worrying about what will happen if you become sick or die unexpectedly.  There will be fewer questions from your children about what will happen to your things if you die.  In fact, it will rarely be a topic of discussion.

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2 comments:

  1. The trick is to find someone you can trust close by outside your family to handle such a situation or to take over the financial affairs when you no longer feel competent to keep up with them. We have no children and the rest of my family members are over two hours away and already up to their ears with work. All the time you hear about trustees ripping seniors off. Most of the people I trust are almost as old as we are and we can't depend on them to survive us.

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    Replies
    1. Yes, this is a particularly serious problem for people who do not have trusted family members who are willing and able to handle these situations for you. There are bill paying agencies which people can hire but, as you say, there is always some risk. The cost can also be prohibitive for some seniors.

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