Stephanie Fierro 2013-05-03 00:10:05
While racking my brain for an exciting topic to write about this month, I ultimately found myself perusing the index of a wills, trusts, and estates textbook. There were all sorts of interesting index entries, e.g. “dower,” “fertile octogenarian,” and “unborn widow.” But then, I came upon the index entry “death without issue” and it fit perfectly with what I was planning to write about. Now, most attorneys will read this article and immediately understand that “death without issue” refers to a decedent who passes away without living lineal descendants, i.e. children or grandchildren. But, the title also implies death without problems. As it turns out, I wanted to write an article about the practical “un-document” aspects of estate planning. Estate planning is more than just documents - it’s the process of organizing your life so that those charged with administering your affairs can do so with as few obstacles as possible. Lord Neaves, a Scottish advocate, judge, theologian and writer, wrote a poem called “The Jolly Testator Who Makes His Own Will” which reads, in relevant part: He premises his wish and his purpose to save All dispute among friends when he’s laid in the grave; Then he straightaway proceeds more disputes to create Than a long summer’s day would give time to relate He writes and erases, he blunders and blots, He produces such puzzles and Gordian knots, That a lawyer, intending to frame the thing ill, Couldn’t match the testator who makes his own will. The point is - having proper estate plan documents drafted is the best first estate planning step you can take. There are, however, many comparatively small, “un-document,” steps you can and should take to help shore up your planning. But, don’t get too literal on me. When I say “un-document” it doesn’t necessarily mean it shouldn’t end up on paper. SAY WHAT YOU NEED TO SAY Whether in person or on paper (and if in person to be followed-up on paper), let your loved ones know what is important to you. First, you can use a tangible personal property memorandum to dispose of tangible personal property (other than money) not otherwise disposed of pursuant to your will. Under Arizona law, this memorandum can, if in your own handwriting or signed by you can control the disposition of your personal belongings. Th is is a useful document because it is binding upon your heirs but is simpler to revise than your will. Second, you can prepare a statement of wishes or letter of instruction regarding your preferences for any or all other matters. Although this document will be advisory, and may not bind your heirs, if it is possible to carry out your wishes at least those you leave behind will know what you really wanted. For example, you can leave instructions regarding who they should contact and where they find your key documents. Although neither of these items are required, they can provide much needed guidance. Plus, if you’ve had to make a tough decision about the way you plan to distribute property you can offer an explanation. If you are concerned that your children will fight remind them that that is not what you want. It may help your survivors avoid conflict. ORGANIZE Let’s face it – from time to time we are all guilty of having too much paper or other stuff in our lives. And, organizing the filing cabinet rarely makes it to the top of the to-do list. So, if you don’t even want to organize your paperwork, why would you expect someone else to want to do it? Clean things out and make them easy to navigate. Do you even know what you own, what it may be worth, or where it can be found at this very moment? Would your agent or personal representative? You should keep an inventory of valuable belongings. If you have assets, it’s fairly likely that you may have liabilities. So, what debts do you have? A list of those is helpful too. A software program like Quicken can be very helpful. What about your subscriptions or memberships? Keeping these items organized can help limit confusion and frustration. ROLL-OVER Over the years you may have changed jobs once or twice. If you’ve contributed to one or more 401k plans in that time, now may be the perfect time to get those accounts rolled over or otherwise merged into one manageable account. Although it may be an annoying or frustrating task for you, just think of how much more difficult it would be for your survivor. It is also a good time to confirm or update the beneficiary information for such accounts. SET ASIDE FUNDS When someone passes away, it is fairly likely that those charged with making the arrangements will not have immediate access to the decedent’s funds. Although funeral costs vary greatly, even a modest funeral can cost several thousand dollars. For some, prepaying these final expenses may be a good option. For others, it may not be possible or practical. Also, doing so is not without risk. For example, those funds may be lost if the funeral home goes out of business. When pre-payment is not the best option, setting aside funds in an accessible account may be the better option. SIMPLIFY Ultimately, some planning and a little organization will help simplify things for the loved ones who care enough to manage your affairs when you are not able to do so yourself.
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This page can be found at http://digitaleditions.walsworthprintgroup.com/article/Death+Without+Issue/1393835/158280/article.html.