My first article about Estate Planning was all about why to have a Last Will and the emotional thrashing that I went through when preparing myself for it. Now that time has passed, most of my emotional pain concerning this topic is done. Now, it is time to get to work. Let's face it, beyond the lawyer's part; Estate Planning is all about the paperwork and documenting your life.
Think about how complex your life is and what your executor is going to have to deal with in tying up the loose ends. Beyond the mundane of paying bills and closing accounts, how else do you touch the world? Do you have a blog you want a notification to go on? Websites? Forums? Games? That's just online. What about freelance stuff career stuff? Volunteer work? Scheduled appointments or vacations? Or, simply notifying that one friend you have a long pen pal relationship with who doesn't use email? Unless this stuff is written down, your executor may never discover it is a dangling thread to tie up.
Most lawyers have a questionnaire for you to fill out. It is long and involved, but necessary. If you don't want to deal with a lawyer, it is still helpful for you to document as much of your life as possible that is important to you and will be important to know about after you are gone. I don't know about you but I've failed every telepathy test I've ever taken and sťances are spotty at best. If you want something dealt with, write it down.
Here are some things to consider. I will be skipping anything to do with children. This is not to say that you cannot be single and hip if you have a child. It is to say that it is outside of my realm of expertise.
Personal Information: Your full name, address, email address, phone number, Social security number, citizenship, location of important documents, Life Insurance Agent name/contact info, Financial Planner name/contact info, Accountant name/contact info, Doctor's name/contact info and any other person of important to you that you deal with on a regular basis.
Pet Information: Your pet's name, age and location of records. Guardian's name/contact info, alternate Guardian's name/contact info, trust amount - it's always nice to provide for the person who will be caring for your pets after you are gone.
Executor or Personal Representative: This is the person who will make sure all your bills are paid, accounts are closed, people are notified, execute your Last Will and Testament, oversee the distribution of your estate and generally come to know you like no other person has in life. There will be no secrets from this person. Into BDSM and have an impressive toy box? This person will find them. Have an intriguing stash of Victorian porn? Yep, same thing. You want to be able to trust this person and to be able to talk to them about your possessions, your thoughts and what you want. It's not going to be easy.
As an aside, when I spoke to my parents about this, getting advice, the first thing my mom said was, "Don't make me your executor." I was surprised. Of course, I would. I trust her. She knows me. She's my mother... and over sixty years old. Oh. Right. There is an excellent chance she will not be around when I die. Siblings, if you are close, are a much better choice as an executor. Otherwise, choose a significant other, best friend or, if they are willing, a financial planner. But, I digress.
Final Arrangements: What do you want done with your body? Burned and shot to the moon? Placed in a natural cemetery? Given over to science for experimentation? To you want a Wake? Do you want people wear purple and sing songs? Do you want a New Orleans style funeral parade? Write it down. This is important for your family because they will want to do what they believe you want them to do. In a time of grief, having clear instructions will help everyone.
Health Care Directives: This is your Living Will. In the event of a permanent unconscious condition, do you want life sustaining procedures withdrawn? If yes, when? After 30, 60, 90, 180 days? If you are female and pregnant, how does this directive change, if it does?
Power of Attorney: This is the person who will be able to act on your behalf if you are unable to for yourself (brain dead, coma, legally insane, etc...) but still breathing. This is different than the Executor. The Executor position only comes into play after you are dead. Power of Attorney is for when you are still alive but incapacitated. This includes the Health Care Power of Attorney. This person will execute your health care directive mentioned above and your Double General Power of Attorney. This person will be able to do things like write checks in your name, pay your bills and close your accounts, even if you are still alive but unable to act of yourself. You must trust this person implicitly and must be able to talk with them openly about what you want.
Financial Information: For all of these bits of financial information, you will want to list the full name on the account, the account number, and the contact information for the companies involved. List your sources of income and amounts - salary, trust fund, dividends. Your current expenses and bills. Be sure to mention bills that are paid by automatic withdrawal from bank accounts or credit cards. Real estate owned and who lives there if you rent the place out. IRA's, 401K's, Retirement and Pension plans, Investment accounts, securities and cash accounts. All insurance information: life, car, house, etc. Finally, all special assets like antique jewelry, an honored Pez dispenser collection or an extensive collection of baseball cards.
Estate Distribution: This is the fun part. Who gets what? Some people go the easy route and state that everything should be sold off or cashed out then split evenly among the beneficiaries. Some people are very particular about specific items. You must be clear here. "All my computer equipment goes to John Smith." And, "Sell my condo using James FabuRealtor as the real estate agent. Split the proceeds evenly between my three nieces Emily Lastname, Amanda Lastname and Haley Namelast." This is also the time when you mention specific charity donations. Again, be very clear who the beneficiary is and how much is going to them under what name.
Yes, it is a lot of detailed paperwork. It is not fun. But, it does help a person take stock of their life and what they want done with their possessions. The more care you take now with this sort of information, the more care you will be taking with your loved ones after your death. Your decisions now on how to deal with this unpleasant but necessary fact of life will prevent a painful future for your family and friends.
If you don't do it now, the State will have to come in and make these choices for you. To tell you the truth, I really don't want the State digging through my life and my stuff much less deciding who gets what. I'm a territory bitch in life. I might as well be one in death.
Estate Planning Blues, Part 1
Power of Attorney
Financial Planning for Singles Pays
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