I will be attending a wedding this weekend which may deteriorate into a cage match, albeit without the steel cage. At this wedding will be four siblings. The surviving parent of the four passed away without a will three years ago, leaving verbal “instructions” with one of the siblings as to how to distribute the estate assets. To date, no assets have been distributed; no accounting has been produced.
Last year, I attended the funeral of an individual who had, over his lifetime, accumulated not only financial assets and a home but also an extraordinary collection of rare classical music recordings and music. This individual passed away unmarried, with no children, and no will.
A few years ago, a friend in a cohabiting couple died very suddenly. The partner, also a friend, developed a brain function disease very soon thereafter. Although there was some evidence of a will which reflected the relationship, that will was never found. The couple’s non-legal advisors did not know who drafted the document. The deceased person’s children became the beneficiaries. The ill partner survives under extremely reduced financial circumstances.
Although these individuals left no written instructions on how to handle their affairs, they did create a legacy. It is a legacy of uncertainty, confusion, anger, turmoil, broken relationships, and wasted resources. And it is a legacy that keeps on giving, over the ensuing months and years.
If I asked you if your goal, during your lifetime, was to create a mess for your family and friends while you were alive, the answer would likely be “No”. Then why would you choose to create that same mess for them after you’re gone? There’s no reasonable answer to that question and there’s no reasonable excuse for you to not get your affairs in order before you go.
Here’s a quick step-by-step guide you can execute to ensure an easier transition for your loved ones:
- Have a will drafted that clearly reflects your wishes as to burial procedures and how you want your assets to be distributed.
- Make sure that the beneficiary designations of any life insurance and annuity policies, IRA accounts, and retirement plan accounts are consistent with your will.
- Have a living will and medical directive drafted to handle end of life medical issues
- Store these documents in a secure place in your home. (Do not store them in a safe deposit box.)
- Alert your executor as to both the location of these documents and the name and contact information of the attorney who drafted the documents.
- Provide a copy of the documents to your financial advisor and the contact information for the drafting attorney.
- Finally, celebrate. You’ve created a legacy of attention and care that will be appreciated and respected by those close to you.
For help with executing these steps, reach out to your financial advisor or other estate planning professional. Read more estate planning tips in Five Things to Do Before You Die.