Estate Planning Checklist: Are You Ready to Talk About Your Own Death?
First, why have the conversation at all? Well, like it or not, someday you may not be able to care for yourself without the help of your children, a professional long-term caregiver or a special facility. And, beyond the issues of failing health comes the ability to leave a legacy to your loved ones – whatever legacy that may be.
For whatever reasons, you must have the conversations about preparing your family as best you can to be the steward of your financial and legal life or preparing yourself for your mortality.
Benjamin Franklin is famously quoted as saying that the only two certainties in life are death and taxes.
Even with these two realities facing each and every individual, it is estimated that close to 60% of Americans do not have a formal will and estate document drawn up and legally executed.
The importance of getting a Will formulated and executed cannot be emphasized enough. A will is a legally binding document that allows the legal document to control your assets upon your death.
Assets could typically include real estate, heirlooms, bank accounts, stock or bonds, collections, and other valuables. In addition, not only does a will clearly state how your goods are to be distributed but also addresses other factors. Other factors include how your wishes for your remains to be taken care of, what happens in the event of you needing resuscitation, living wills and powers of attorney.
Therefore, one of the most informed discussions that family members can have is when a member of the family begins to realize their mortality.
This somber, but realistic view is critical to face head-on because an important discussion needs to occur amongst the family members.
Perhaps, before talking to your family about getting a will and preparing for your own mortality, it would be important that you understand the importance of formulating a will and executing that will legally as a bona fide document.
A properly prepared will can also minimize state and federal taxes levied upon your possessions after your death. This is because a will helps to prevent your estate from going into probate.
Probate is a legal process involving attorneys through the judicial system. If your estate goes into probate, and you do not have a will available, any associated fees will be paid from your assets.
A discussion with an estate planning attorney will give you a basic understanding of the issues involved and place you on the path toward having a full conversation with your family. Other less expensive ways include a will making kit, computer software with step by step instructions or by having an online legal advisory lead through the process.
When considering the expenses associated with preparing a will, it is vital to remember that cheaper is not necessarily better. The higher expense of obtaining legal advice from an attorney may be preferable if there are complex issues or relatives who may contest your decisions.
So how do you talk about it?
According to University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, the most often given reasons why people do not have the conversation about life and estate planning is lack of education about legal or financial issues and fear of sounding foolish.
People only talk about a will and estate planning when there is an urgency.
For many, estate planning and elder planning – using wills – is usually only done at the urging of our “regular” health, legal and financial advisors.
A good way for you to start is through a family discussion. Your input and wishes should be shared with family members in case the inevitable happens.
It is probably going to be your most powerful family meeting because it provides an open window into your heart to other family members and also reveals your thinking.
The reality is that this may be an uncomfortable topic for some and resistance may be experienced in addressing this topic. However, despite the possibility of the discomfort of the situation it is something that needs to be addressed and is better conducted in a family setting so that everybody is on the same page.
When bringing your family together with this type of meeting it is best to let the family members know what the intention of the meeting is rather than blindsiding everybody.
Another humorous quote but a realistic assertion is that states, “Where there is a will there is a relative.”
This truism reflects the reality that when an individual member or couple within the family dies, the worldly goods that they leave behind can quickly become points of contention amongst the surviving relatives within the family.
During the family meeting, a broad outline of what your intentions are should be shared. Although it is not necessary that you explain, it may be beneficial for your family members to understand and gain a sense of the passion and why the assets are to be dispersed the way that is being indicated at this family encounter.
Also, to make it a family matter when getting a will, you may wish to allow for the opportunity for anyone to dialogue while you are in the process of drawing up the will and estate.
There may be challenges on certain issues, but it is important to remember and gently remind everyone the disbursements reflect your desires.
During the course of this discussion do not be surprised that someone may say something that hadn’t been thought about. A particular issue or item may be mentioned that is especially meaningful for them and something that they wish to be passed on to them.
Once you have decided on these issues it is best to prepare a few notes and a preliminary draft of those wishes. This will help to keep the discussion on track when it comes to making the desires known to the family. It will help in preventing others from driving the conversation of what they think is best for the disbursement of those assets.
Remember, it is your money and future at stake. Once armed with your full estate plan, you can better communicate your wishes and instructions to your loved ones and your loved ones can better understand their role in your plans.
Below is your estate planning checklist:
Where your investments and the documents pertaining to them are stored
- That you have made your requirements clear to your investment, legal, and tax advisors
- What is in your will, who is the executor and why
- If there are complexities in your bequests, explain them in detail to avoid conflict among the beneficiaries and among those not included
- Your wishes for charitable and other legacy decisions
- How you want health care decisions made and that you have been clear about your wishes and gotten a commitment from the person with your Health Care Proxy to follow your desires. Moreover, that you talked to your doctor about your wishes
- The benefits of your health and long-term care insurance, and how you wish to be taken care of in case of debilitating illness
- Your funeral wishes or, better yet, that they are pre-planned so that your survivors do not have to make these decisions at a difficult time
Do not deny that this conversation is going to be difficult and may not go smoothly at first. Nor is it meant to be the only one that you will have with your family about your wishes. But you must have it, not just without apology, but by fully embracing it and make it part of your family fabric.
If done with the right motive, with a full understanding of why you are having the conversation in the first place, and with a list of topics to guide you. It will give you and your loved ones the peace of mind knowing you are on the right path toward a comprehensive estate and disability plan.
What about life changes?
Additionally, the reality of life is that there is a change. Consequently, you must keep in mind changes that may relate to your possessions or change in your family. For example, if your home has been sold, new investments made, a change in family relationships or other significant life events, it is important that you reflect them in your will.
This action is known as a codicil. A codicil is simply a written amendment to the will and endorsed as such. It changes the specific provisions of a last will and testament but leaves all other provisions the same.
Each of these ways requires that a number of questions are considered and answered by the preparer. Examples of questions posed will be to identify the assets, list beneficiaries, what needs to be bestowed upon those beneficiaries, assertion of one’s sound judgment and the naming of an executor.
What is an executor
An executor is a trusted individual that you appointed and put in charged with administering the wishes of the will. It is imperative you ask that individual if he or she is willing to fulfill this responsibility prior to putting the will together. Never forget the name of the executor in your estate planning checklist.
Getting personal with personal property
You would have helped your family if you create a precautionary list of personal property items that are too inexpensive (and change too often) to put in the will.
Out to the side, put the name of the person whom you want to inherit each item–who gets what. You might also need to think about what will happen to personal or business items that will outlive you. So be sure to spell out what you want to happen to such items.
Planning your own death
During the trying months after you die, you will need to reduce your relative’s distress. There are some things you can do to relieve the problem on the family after your departure. Then choose whether probate minimization or avoidance can be among your objectives.
Last instructions before you die
Leave a letter having your last wishes and burial instructions in a room where your family can discover it; hence you would have made your survivor’s task easier. The most significant decision is what to spend on a funeral.
Nowadays, the average funeral cost that is incurred by a family is between $4500 and $6000. But a funeral director may pressure a grieving family to spend more than it can afford as a sign of showing how much you loved the deceased.
You can prevent your survivors and estate from that kind of pressure by arranging the service and setting a limit on funeral expenses while you are alive, with the help of your trusted person, like your religious leader, executor or spouse.
Note that written or oral guidelines about the burial are not legally binding on your executor or family. The next of kin or spouse is authorized to handle the arrangements of the burial; state law will take over if no one emerges forward to do so.
The instructions should list
1. What you need to be done with your body donated to science, cremated, buried; funeral arrangements-account you have set up to pay for burial costs or information about any plan of the funeral you have purchased; burial plot and location of the cemetery, flowers, music, people you wish to speak and location of services.
2. Name of any source or charity to which you wish contributions sent in your name
3. The identity and phone number of the lawyer and executor and location of your will.
4. Location of secure deposit box and any essential records not placed on it, like benefit and pension agreements, financial and insurance records, important business, prenuptial documents, divorce, marriage, and birth certificate
5. The address and the name of your employers, executor, and lawyer are required.
6. The information you require to be added to your obituary
Once the will has been finalized, it is essential that you have the document notarized as needed and, in certain areas, witnessed by two people who have no bearing in the will.
Keep the original of the will in a safe place. Because of the importance of a will, one good location would be to place the legal document in a fireproof safe within the home and provide the combination to the executor.
Finally, the importance of a getting a will is considered as an action to protect your assets for the benefit of your family and should always be included in your estate planning checklist. Your death is part of life but can be a traumatic event for the members of your family.
Having a will is an important step toward minimizing that trauma for your family. It documents your intentions for the distribution of assets to benefit others. This process will certainly minimize any contentious moments when the will is revealed to your family members and provides a loving openness to all the family members.