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Law Offices of Ronald W. Rutz
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November 10, 2004: Basic Estate Plan

Q: How should I organize my affairs to make things easier for everyone when I am gone?

A: Although I have written on this topic before, this question keeps being asked so much that I want to give the following short list of points to consider with an attempt to highlight but not become too detailed.

First, a basic estate plan should be in place, which means doing a Will, durable powers of attorney, and possibly a living will. Additionally after talking with an attorney, title assets and designate beneficiaries to fit into your particular type of arrangements. It will be a disaster to have the documents suggest one thing while the titling of assets and beneficiary designations take assets in a different direction.

Make a list of assets so that everything is identified, including such things as severed mineral rights, benefits from an old employer or from the military, benefits attached to a credit card or bank account, fraternal benefits, etc. Be specific so companies such as insurance are identified by name and policy numbers are listed or stock certificate names and numbers are noted. Key people should be named who may need to be contacted, including the accountant, financial advisor, lawyer, and benefits person at your former company, just to name a few.

Consider adding someone to the checking account and putting an additional name on the signature card for the safe deposit box. Thus bills can continue to be paid after death and the bank box accessed without a court order.

Documents are missed in many estates. Consolidate asset documents and titles in one place and let someone know where you keep those documents. It might be wise to also include several years of tax returns. Too often much too much time is spent being a detective ferreting out material.

I favor prepaying burial arrangements and obtaining a gravesite. Too often families are placed in a position of having to go through this process while dealing with the weight of the loss and also being in the early stages of the grieving process. But if a burial plan is purchased, one should know what is being bought. Otherwise money is wasted. And oh yes, let someone know (or list) what burial plan was obtained and keep the documents so that the funeral home’s records can be verified or adjusted to match what you did put in place.

Even though the family may be reluctant or even disinterested, share with them the preparations that have been made. Giving them a "heads up" will reduce the number of things that everyone needs to deal with later.

This is not the time to agonize over pennies. Although it is frustrating, accept that it will cost several thousand dollars to settle an estate, whether it is decided to do a trust and the expenses associated with a trust settlement or to settle an estate through the Will in conjunction with the planning put in place.

But for those of you who maintain that it doesn’t matter because you won’t be around anyway, I do not know what to say. I guess that is why there are attorneys and CPAs available to be hired who will benefit by having to straighten things out.

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