Your Will: Planning is a Life and Death Issue
Recently during a tax appointment with one of my clients I learned that they still did not have a will. I asked them to promise me to spend just a few minutes and hand write a will that night (until they can schedule an appointment with an estate attorney). Two months later, I received a call with the terrible news, the husband had died unexpectedly and had not prepared a will.
It’s difficult enough to lose a spouse, but then a difficult emotional time becomes even more difficult because his estate is in complete disarray, and the assets will be tied up in probate court for a year or more. We want to remind you that it is extremely important to have a will drawn up, but that is just the beginning of effective estate planning. Here are some other steps you should take to protect your family:
Step 1: Keep your will up to date by reviewing it at least once a year. You may need to make changes to reflect such events as births, deaths, new property acquisitions, and to take advantage of changes in the tax law. (An up-to-date personal financial statement can be very helpful in estate planning.)
Step 2: Inform your spouse about your business and investment assets. Your spouse should at least have a working knowledge of your pension or profit-sharing plan, your securities and investment goals, and your insurance policies. You should also acquaint your spouse with a trusted adviser or associate that he or she can turn to for help, especially with regard to your business.
Step 3: Prepare a list of your major assets and documents along with their locations. Make sure that your family knows where this list can be found. The list might include, in addition to your tangible assets, an itemization of your securities, insurance policies, credit cards, safe deposit boxes, and passwords. In addition, include (as appropriate) the names and addresses of your accountant, attorney, banker, insurance broker, real estate broker, and financial advisor.
Step 4: Prepare what is referred to as a "last letter of instruction" or "post-mortem letter" to your spouse or other close relative. The letter should include the names of people to contact upon your death, spell out funeral arrangements and so forth.
Step 5: If you have a business, prepare a succession plan-even if you are young and healthy.
Step 6: If you have dependents (children or otherwise) review your plan for them. Is your selected guardian still able to care for them if need be? Are trusts set up to give the guardian the financial means to care for them? Is your last letter of instruction to the guardian up-to-date?
In closing, don’t get caught without a will and/or trust – it’s a “gift” to your heirs.