Q: I just settled my auntŐs estate. Her documents were up-to-date and worked just fine. But the rest was a big mess. I did not know what I was getting into! Please discuss some practical points in estate planning.
A: I have written on this topic before but a number of issues certainly need to be revisited. The following are points to consider in no particular order.
Prearranging burial can be very helpful but also alerting your personal representative to the planŐs existence is also important. Too often the burial process is begun only for the fiduciaries to later learn that other arrangements had been paid for. Some people also write their own obituary and service.
Simplify the clutter of seven or more decades of living. Certainly keep items that have significance or are needed for daily living. But much around the house simply takes up space. Take time to go through things. You do not have to throw away just for the sake of throwing away. But sort out what is important. Keep out those things you truly want to have immediately around you, box and store the items you wish to keep, but discard the remainder.
Too often in settling an estate it is necessary to wade through mounds of lifeŐs accumulations, trying to locate necessary papers needed to handle the estate legalities and then have estate fiduciaries spend inordinate amounts of time sorting through all the clutter again trying to decide what to salvage and what to just junk.
Think about what happens to pets. Especially for older folks who have become very attached to their companions, thought should be given to the animalsŐ physical and financial futures.
My general rule is to not add names such as the children to asset titles. But I have two exceptions. Even if a Durable Power of Attorney is in place, add anotherŐs name to the checking account and if you have one, to the signature card of a bank box. Not only is the process of accessing contents or funds speeded up, but at death, unlike a Durable Power of Attorney power over these assets continues to permit your fiduciary to quickly retrieve items and to pay bills.
Locate and assemble all the legal papers that the personal representative might need, including such things as stock certificates, insurance policies, car titles, deeds, several prior years tax returns, etc.
Make a list of assets which will serve as a guide in settling the estate. The more detailed the list the easier it will be for your personal representative. Remember to include the "smaller" assets such as the insurance policy on an account at the bank or the credit card company, patronage dividends at a "COOP" such as REA, etc.
Even if you are convinced that there is nothing there, veterans should contact the government to see if any benefits still exist. Call old employers, unions, banks that have been used in the past, etc. to ferret out long forgotten assets.
In my experience there have been countless times when the Personal Representative uncovers such "assets" by just making a few calls. So do it for your fiduciary before hand.
If information is in the computer, run a hard copy to be kept with the legal documents. Computer information is often lost, backup information does not work, information can not be found, or passwords are not provided.
Finally while double checking make sure that you not only have original documents, review the documents to be certain that they still reflect your thoughts and feels. There are additional factors but those will have to wait for a future column.