Making Family Aware of Your Estate
All attorneys have their pet peeves. One of my growing pet peeves concerns people failing to notify their family about estate planning. It is very common for people to keep their estate and the distribution thereof private, especially if one or more of the descendants may be disturbed by the decisions. However, privacy and awareness are not exclusive terms. A few tips on maintaining privacy and awareness are listed below:
1. Write a Letter / Tell Someone. Write a letter to multiple family members stating the existence of a will and/or trust. Additionally, tell them where the will and/or trust may be located. If one is uncomfortable stating the location of the will and/or trust, then state the name of the attorney who drafted the will and/or trust. The letter should also identify the named agents of any medical/financial power of attorney. As a point of caution, never leave a will and/or trust in a safe deposit box.
2. List of Personal Property. It is important that survivors have a readily accessible list of personal property, inclusive of outstanding loans. Personal property includes cars, trucks, tractors, china, jewelry, etc. One does not need to be exact. A broad description along with location should be fine. For instance, don’t forget to identify the rented storage unit.
3. List Real Property. It is more important that survivors have a readily accessible list of real property, inclusive of outstanding loans. Real property is land, buildings, mineral interest, etc. It is both a good and bad day when survivors get a phone call that an oil and gas company has a very, very large check waiting for them because it took years to find the descendants. This happens more than one may think.
4. Safe Deposit Boxes. Leave a complete list of safe deposit boxes. Although one must get an order from the court to access the safe deposit box, at least the descendants know where to look. These assets are pretty hard to identify otherwise.
5. Bank Accounts / Bank Statements. Leave a list of bank accounts and bank statements. After death, the surviving loved ones have to determine payment obligations, loans, monthly income, etc. By reviewing a year’s worth of bank statements, one can largely determine assets (by the taxes and insurance paid), on which assets a loan still exists, monthly bills, and monthly payors. Additionally, it will help identify any annuities or life insurance policies.
6. Life Insurance / Annuities. Maintain a current list of life insurance and annuities. Although survivors may determine contract assets by the ongoing premiums identified through bank statements, insurance policies and annuities are often fully prepaid or part of a retirement package. Again, if these assets are ever found, it will often be many years after death. Then, the family must hire an attorney for a second time to get access to the assets.
7. Burial or Cremation. Family members should be told whether one wants to be buried or cremated. Do not rely on the will. Often, the will is not read until after the funeral. Also, it requires the surviving family to actually know about the existence and the location of the will. Additionally, let family members know if a burial plot or the full funeral cost has previously been purchased.
I hope the steps are helpful. For complete estate planning guidance, please visit with a local estate planning attorney.