Have you ever spent time thinking about what happens when you die? I don’t mean in the metaphysical or spiritual sense, but in a what-kind-of-mess-will-you-leave-behind sense. Most of us, at one time or another, have been through the loss of a close friend or family member and if you haven’t yet, you inevitably will. We will all have to leave this world at some point. So, have you thought about how you can make that easier on those you leave behind?
I know it is not the easiest topic in the world to talk about with family members and nobody wants to spend an afternoon planning their own funeral or figuring out who gets custody of the kids if you both are gone, but at some point, it has to be talked about. Either you can participate or you can leave it to your family and the courts to decide. Do you really want the court to decide who will raise your children? And even if your children are grown, don’t you want a say in what happens to all those assets you worked so hard for over your lifetime? And even if you don’t care about that, don’t you want to reduce to stress and work that you put on your family after you are gone?
I always remind my clients that no decision is still a decision. If we don’t decide who gets our assets, a court will, but it will cost a lot more money for lawyers to hash it out.
We had a family member pass away many years ago and in the days after his funeral, I was on the floor of his office going through piles of paper trying to figure out if he had a will or life insurance or if he had been to see an attorney. I was calling random numbers in his phone and calendar to see if I could find an attorney he might have seen and calling his work to find out if he had any benefits that his wife was entitled to. With his death, her health insurance (through his work) was about to end as was the only source of income to the house. It was critical that I find those documents and soon. I never found a will (in this case, it was lucky that his wife was the only one who had a claim to any assets) and after much research, managed to locate a life insurance policy and retirement plan from his old company and his new company (both of which were left to the estate because he didn’t update his beneficiaries after he got married). After quite a bit of back and forth, she got all of the assets, but it didn’t need to be so hard. You don’t want your family members going through all of that. And you can prevent it.
There are certain documents that are crucial and almost everyone needs to have them. They include a Will, a Revocable Trust, a durable financial Power of Attorney, a health care Power of Attorney, an Advanced Medical Directive, and a list of all financial assets, documents and locations so that someone can find them if necessary. You will want to talk to an estate planning attorney to find out what you will need in your specific case and realize that as time goes on, these documents will need to be modified. You don’t want to be a 60 year old grandmother whose most recent will leaves her “future children” to her sister. You also don’t want to become incapacitated and have a family member have to go to court in order to pay your bills or make necessary decisions for you. Don’t forget to make necessary changes as you experience life events like marriage, divorce, death, birth of children, etc. You also might need to make changes as the lives of your beneficiaries get married, have kids or pass away.
Losing a family member or having to cope with a major medical issue is difficult enough on everyone involved. The best we can do for our families is make it a little easier by having our financial houses in order when something happens.