Often, people seek out an estate planning attorney so that they can organize their affairs if something happens, so as to make it as easy as possible for their family on the “Day After.” This is the period immediately following some event (medical emergency, incapacity, entrance into a nursing home, or death) which makes you unable to act for yourself.
Here are some important tips that you can implement now to protect yourself, your family, and your finances, and obtain some peace of mind:
- Get your legal affairs in order now. If you don’t have legal documents in place to allow someone to manage your finances and make health care decisions for you, now’s the time to do so. Ditto if you don’t have a Will, especially if you have minor children. You do not want to leave these critical decisions up to someone else to decide. This is especially true if there are specific family members you absolutely don’t want involved in managing your health care or financial decisions, or acting as guardians for your minor children.
- Make a list of your assets and liabilities. Even with the proper legal documents in place, it can still be incredibly difficult for a spouse or loved one to assist you if they don’t know what bank you use, where your checkbook is located, what assets are available to provide for your care, and how to access them. Prepare (and periodically update) a list of bank accounts, investment accounts, retirement accounts, real estate, automobiles, boats, life insurance and disability policies, and any other assets that can be used for your benefit. You’ve worked long and hard to make sure that you and your family are provided for, so make sure your loved ones know how to locate and identify the funds they will need.
- Check the title of your assets and beneficiary designations. If you haven’t checked the beneficiary designations on your life insurance, retirement accounts, and pensions, now is absolutely the time to do so. Those beneficiary designations cannot be changed once you are gone! Now’s also the time to confirm how your house, bank accounts, CDs, and other assets are owned, and determine who, if anyone, is (or should be) listed as a co-owner.
- Make a list of your computer passwords and logins. In this day of online bill paying, you should keep your websites, logins and passwords handy (but secure), just in case a loved one needs to pay those bills on the Day After. There are plenty of safe ways to store this information, but sometimes the low-tech way (a handwritten list) is the easiest and most efficient.
- Make a list of the important people to contact on the Day After. Compile names and contact information for family members and friends. Add in your insurance agent, financial advisor, accountant, and attorney. If there is a priest, rabbi, or other spiritual or religious advisor, make sure his/her name is included. Do you have a prepaid funeral, burial plot, or other arrangements? Include that info, as well. Want to really help out your family? Collect claim forms from life insurance companies, pension benefits, and your IRA or 401(k) custodian, so that things are easier on the Day After.
- Write down your wishes. Do you want to be cryogenically frozen until the year 2525? Make sure your family knows. Do you want your obituary to mention that you were a two-time all-state athlete in high school? Write it down. Make a “cheat sheet” of these and other types of important information that you want your family to know on the Day After, especially your thoughts about health care decisions and end-of-life planning. Share the information with the right people, or make sure it’s accessible to them on the Day After (see #7, below).
- Make a “Day After” folder. Now that you have all of this important information in place, make sure it’s someplace easy to locate when the time comes. A safe deposit box isn’t the best location, as it can be difficult to access, especially if you die or become disabled outside of banking hours, or if your name is the only one on the box. A simple expandable folder labelled “Day After Information” and kept in your home works just fine. Just be sure to let loved ones know where that folder is located.
This planning and preparation is simple enough to implement, and can save your family members a tremendous amount of time, energy, and expense on the Day After. Start now. Your family will thank you one day.
Cheryl A. Jones is a Member in the firm’s Wealth Preservation Group. She represents individuals and families, business owners, healthcare facilities, corporate executives, foundations and other non-profit entities in matters relating to estate planning, asset protection, and elder law, including asset transfer strategies. Her practice includes advising LGBT clients on estate and family planning matters, including second parent adoption proceedings.
The scope of Cheryl’s practice includes the preparation of estate planning and trust documents, powers of attorney and health care directives, estate and trust administration, asset protection planning, and certain family law matters, including negotiation and drafting of prenuptial and postnuptial agreements, guardianship proceedings, and second parent adoptions. In addition, Cheryl advises families on elder law issues, particularly planning for the costs of long term care and Medical Assistance (“Medicaid”). Cheryl also advises on charitable tax matters such as structuring complex charitable gifts, preparing charitable remainder trusts and charitable lead trusts, and forming and administering non-profits and 501(c)(3) charities. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 410-769-6141.