Creating an estate plan with a will, trust and powers of attorney is a great way to protect your family when you pass and, just as important, to protect you If you become incapacitated. However, there are a few additional steps I would recommend any senior take beyond creating an estate plan.
#1 SIMPLIFY YOUR ASSETS
Having multiple bank accounts, online trading accounts, and other accounts can be a disaster when you become incapacitated or pass away. That’s because often these extra accounts have small balances. Make a list of all your accounts and figure out which ones can be closed and combined with other accounts. That will not only make life easier for you but your family.
#2 GET ORGANIZED…ENOUGH
Organization is a great thing but the best type of organization, in my humble opinion, gets the job done without requiring meticulous updating and maintenance. In other words, don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
Keep your estate plan three hole punched in a binder. That way nothing is loose and can fall out. Next, buy a pack of 10 manila envelopes. Create one for “bank accounts”, one for “car titles”, one for “life insurance policies”, one for “real estate”, one for “funeral plans”. Make it your own. Whatever you think is important, give it a manila envelope and keep all the envelopes together. When information gets old, throw it out and replace it with the updated information. If you’re a techie, do all of the above but save it on a thumb drive.
#3 CONSIDER GIVNG AWAY YOUR “STUFF” TO FAMILY NOW
Some of my clients decide to give away trinkets, heirlooms and other sentimental personal items while they are alive. It’s a chance to de-clutter, to ensure that the person you want to have a certain item gets it and to avoid any family controversy down the road when you’ve passed on.
If you aren’t ready to do that but know who you want to have what, reduce your wishes to writing. Put the recipient’s name in one column and the item in the next column. Be specific. If necessary, number items.
#4 TELL WHOEVER IS IN CHARGE THAT THEY ARE IN CHARGE
A head scratcher for me throughout my career has been clients who create an estate plan but never ask anyone that they name to be in charge whether they will service in that capacity and/or never get the person a copy of the documents. Creating the estate plan is a big step one. Small step two is to sit down with that person and show them what’s what and give them all the information they need to make their life easier when it’s their time to act.
#5 STAY AWAY FROM SAFE DEPOSIT BOXES
About a month into my career as an attorney in the middle of nowhere in the Southern California desert, my boss picked up a probate case. The woman who passed had created an estate plan but her son said it was in a safe deposit box at the bank down the street. The son and I went down to the bank and I tried to explain to the bank employee that everything we needed was in the safe deposit box if the son could just get access. We were denied. He wasn’t on the signature card for the box and wasn’t an owner. The solution was that I had to file a petition with the court with an affidavit from the son to get a court order to take to the bank for their approval to give to a locksmith to meet me at the bank to drill the lock on the box. So two weeks later we finally got the documents we needed.
Get a floor safe. They’re relatively cheap these days and can store other valuables. And they can be opened on Sundays.
Charles J. Moore is an estate planning and elder law attorney and the founder of Legacy Law Center, which has offices in O’Fallon (by appointment only) and St. Charles. He can be reached at (636) 486-2669. Visit his website at www.legacylawmissouri.com. The information expressed herein should not be construed by the reader to be legal advice, nor relied upon as legal advice, as it is solely for informational purposes.