I had intended to write a series of posts on Wading Into the Unknown (Death, Dying and the Legal System) – however, I’m changing my focus a little bit. Much of what I had thought about writing was too personal. Therefore, I’ll dispense with that and give some things that I’ve learned as I dealt with my mother’s health crisis, death and all that stuff that comes afterwards.
- Make sure your loved one (parent, in-laws, grandparents, spouse) has a LEGAL will. Not a form book they have filled out. Not something they’ve written. Not something they’ve videotaped. They need to see an attorney and have one drawn up! And if you haven’t done this yet – let your fingers do the walking TODAY!
- Do NOT under any circumstances make the beneficiaries of your life insurance policies – your estate! This complicates things like you would not believe! Make sure your loved one has listed their spouse, surviving children or grandchildren, just SOMEONE!
- And if you really want to make sure your loved one’s estate (or your’s) stays out of probate – make sure all property (real estate, property, cars, etc.) is Transferred On Death. Bank accounts should be Paid On Death. If not – the whole world can find out how much you (or your loved one) was worth at death. Probate records are open to the public.
- Have your loved one make a list of items in their home along with who they are to go to. Do not under any circumstances write something like “if they don’t want it, sell it.” (If you do #1 this will not happen – however, if you don’t want Brother A to get the antique toy truck and you want it to go to your grandson – you better put it in writing.)
- And for this – I’m talking directly to you – start cleaning out all that “stuff” you’ve been keeping. Do you use it? Have you used it recently (like the last 6 months – 1 year)? Does it still have a use? Does anyone want it? Each time something comes in – something must go out.
- Keep items that go together – together! It is very frustrating to clean out one room and either trash an object or send to charity only to find several days later in another room a part that went with Object #1!
- If you do #1 – have an attorney draw up a legal will – make sure that you (or your loved one) makes it clear who the executor (or executrix – if it’s a woman) is and that they do not have to post a bond.
- Review and update your will as situations change – you sell your home, you add or subtract insurance policies, etc.
- Keep ALL important documents – insurance policy numbers, safe deposit box information, bank account information in a safe location – at least all in one location – along with where the actual policies are. Do not put one thing here, the other in a another closet, etc. Make it very clear if a policy is still in force or if that annuity is still active.
- Ask – or write down – final wishes. Just because you’ve mentioned it (or heard it from loved ones) in passing, doesn’t mean it will be remembered or executed. Where exactly will the final resting place be?
Yes, these are difficult things to do or talk about. Some people are afraid if they bring it up to their parents, it will appear as if they are greedy or fishing for how much money or possessions they will receive. Alleviate that concern by letting your loved one know that you don’t need to know that information – just that it’s done. Explain the ramifications if these items above aren’t taken care of.
- The estate will go to Probate
- The person who they expect to execute the estate probably will not be appointed unless they happen to live right there. (Some states will not allow an out-of-state resident to execute the estate).
- All tangible and intangible possessions and property will be appraised and sold in order to pay off debts, the attorney, the administrator, and then dispersed to the family – the way the law of the state requires.
- Arguments can ensue over who should get the china, the linens, the silver, or even that dusty old statue that has sat on top of the buffet forever.
I hope some of these suggestions have helped – or at least begin a conversation.