Petty differences and resentments can split siblings apart.
This may be a topic that many do not want to address or even think about. But my limited experience, as well as conversations with estate lawyers, have told me that, to avoid leaving your family and loved ones devastated and estranged, you need to plan for what happens if your health deteriorates and also after you die.
Any decision you make and any division of assets will have consequences beyond what you can imagine. Sadly, it is the more unusual family that comes out of the death of a parent, closer and more intact than before. All too often, petty differences and resentments, often originating years ago, can split siblings apart. Avoiding this is your duty and the purpose of this article.
As you decide to take inventory of your life, and look to ensuring as equitable division of assets as possible, start with a frank discussion of your desires with your spouse or significant other. This is especially important if yours is a blended family or a subsequent marriage. After you are in agreement about all the items you can, and then consult with an estate planner or attorney to discover the legal and tax implications of your plans.
What follows is a very brief list of actions to consider and information to accumulate for your estate.
Key documents and actions.
- Have you drawn up a will? There are many online services available for a simple estate.
- Have you nominated and informed your executor – choose one that is tough, but compassionate. Think twice about nominating a child if there are other children as you are forcing one to make decisions that will greatly effect the others, also there is an unspoken gesture of favoring or trusting one over the others. I also recommend against co-executors. Whomever you designate, ensure that he or she is allowed to fulfil that office.
- Have you executed an enduring power of attorney?
- Have you made a list of treasured possessions, a history of them, and to whom they will go, whether to family members or non-family members you want to remember or bless? Do not assume your executor will instinctively know where things go and to whom. There are friends and institutions close to you, about which your family or executor will know nothing without this detailed and exhaustive list.
Where and what are your important financial items and numbers?
Just imagine your executor trying to find, account for, and take the appropriate action on your behalf with incomplete or missing data. Make a list with the following information:
- All bank accounts by number and bank.
- The location of all safe deposit boxes and their keys.
- The location of safes and/or strong boxes in the house and combinations/keys.
- Each of your credit cards and numbers – to be canceled upon your incapacity or death.
- Each of your of lines of credit – to be canceled upon your incapacity or death.
- Any income or residual payments from patents, settlements, copyrights, pensions, disability, etc. you may have.
- All of your insurance policies (life, health, mortgage, auto, home)-numbers, company, agents.
- Your social security number.
- All of your vehicles, boats, recreational vehicles, heavy or farm equipment.
- All real estate owned by you.
- If employed or receiving pension from a company, the HR department contact information.
- Each of the debts owed you.
- Any debts you owe.
- Any outstanding tax issues.
- Each of partnerships you are part of and the principals’ contact information.
- The names and contact information of your lawyer, accountant, doctor, dentist (you’ll want to have appointments cancelled and/or need records), veterinarian.
- Your computer and other passwords and IDs.
- Who to notify – e.g. alumni, fraternal or professional organizations.
Put all this information in a sealed container/envelope and give to your attorney.
Other things you should consider doing now.
- Write your obituary.
- Make your funeral service plans – songs, scriptures, message, form of service, graveside or memorial service only, open or closed casket, costs, etc.
- Burial plans – location, cremation vs. burial, headstone inscription, disposal of ashes, etc.
- Give stuff away while it can be enjoyed if you are not using it.
- Consider writing a letter to those you love.
- Write an autobiography for your children and grandchildren.
If possible, or advisable, go over your list of assets and their division with the family members, either individually or as a group, so they know what your thoughts, priorities, and intentions are.
You might want to let your family and executor know that, upon your death, they will need several copies of the death certificate to go with legal notifications of death to insurance companies, pensions, etc.