Estate Organization: A road map for your loved ones
Imagine you are taking a road trip to a place you have never been before. You may have a general idea of where you are going but you don’t have a map. Now imagine that you have to drive the car while you are grieving, overwhelmed or confused. You many have family members along for the ride who are also dealing with strong emotions and they all want to go in different directions.
Now think about how much easier that drive would be if you had been given a map to guide you every step of the way.
Estate Organization means having all your important documents, in one place so that your family will not be faced with making extremely difficult decisions at time when they may also be experiencing grief and other overwhelming emotions.
If you are like most people, you don’t want to think about your death, much less make detailed plans for this inevitable event. However, if you don’t make a plan you are potentially leaving a mess for loved ones to sort out. In addition, not having a plan means your estate may be subject to probate, which can be a very expensive and time consuming process. Getting your affairs in order is a huge gift to your loved ones. And once you do it, it will be a big relief to you too!
Locate, document and organize everything related to your personal estate, so that your loved ones know what to do in a time of crisis. This includes, your will or trust, health care directive, bank account numbers, life insurance policies, passwords, burial instructions, location of safe deposit boxes and instructions for the care of your pets. Yes, this will require some work on your part, but having all this information (and more) in one place will save your loved ones hours of time and stress.
Why Have an Estate Plan?
Many people believe that estate planning is only for wealthy people. I believe the most important part of your estate plan is not your estate, it’s your plan. An estate simply refers to all the assets a person owns. This includes: Real property, personal property; such as a car or jewelry, as well as bank accounts and investments. Yes, naming who will inherit your estate is an important part of your plan, however; the plan itself is the greatest gift you can leave your loved ones.
As an attorney, I frequently met with clients who had a recent terminal diagnoses and needed an estate plan quickly. They had very little time left and we’re spending much of it getting their affairs in order. They had to make difficult decisions about who to leave their property to, who should care for their pets or who to name to make health care and other decisions for them. Most of us would not want to spend our last days worrying about these details.
Although it is never easy to think about the details of our death, or to make big decisions about our end of life care, doing it before you become sick can certainly make it a less stressful for you and your family. Additionally, if you become incapacitated from dementia, or other illnesses you will no longer have the capacity to execute legal documents and will be unable to create an estate plan or update your existing plan.
Having a Plan Means:
- There is less chance for conflict between siblings and other family members, after your death or incapacity.
- Your loved ones will have peace of mind, knowing they have followed your wishes.
- Family members will not have to make difficult decisions in the middle of a crisis.
- Estate expenses will be minimized, making your estate more valuable.
- Your assets will go to the people you choose.
- Your minor children will be cared for by the guardians you have chosen.
- Your special needs child will be provided for after your death or incapacity.
- You will be taken care of according to your wishes, should you become ill or incapacitated.
If you have not created an estate plan, I can refer you to experienced estate planning attorneys in the area, attend meetings with you and along with your attorney, provide guidance in choosing health care agents, executors, trustees and guardians.
Estate organization doesn’t end when you sign your documents. It is important to document all of your account numbers, IRAs, 401Ks, passwords, safe deposit locations, etc. Estate organization includes locating and documenting everything related to your state. The final step is to customize a system, in a format that works for you, (either online, in a binder, or a workbook) so that all your information will be in one easily accessible place when you or your loved ones need them.
Although I have a law degree and experience in estate planning, I am no longer a practicing attorney and therefore cannot draft legal documents or offer legal advice to my clients.