When my husband and I were in our twenties, we didn’t have what anyone would consider an “estate.” We lived paycheck to paycheck and had a mortgage on a small house.
We did, however, have two priceless assets that provided good reasons for us to make a will—our children.
While no one likes to consider something tragic may happen to us, the reality is that it can and does. Lack of financial assets aside, my husband and I realized we wanted to be sure our children were raised by guardians we chose, period.
I can’t tell you how relieved I was the day we signed those papers, knowing our wishes would be upheld.
Years later, after our sons became adults, we had a trust done, having learned that transferring the contents of a trust to an heir is usually more efficient and timely than a will.
Again I was relieved, knowing we were making our children’s lives easier if the need became necessary.
It was our gift to them.
Also important is making funeral and end-of-life plans. As Elizabeth Fishel and Jeffrey Arnett write in “How to Talk to Your Grown Kids About Your Mortality,” an online “next avenue” article, “Don’t assume they’ll know what to do; they won’t, and you don’t want them to have to make decisions amid the sadness of losing you.”
I repeat: these are gifts that only we can give. It’s up to us to take care of it so that the difficult time of grieving is less painful.
After you’ve taken care of the legal and personal documents, experts advise that you share the details with your heirs.
This can be uncomfortable. Most of us keep our personal business private. But sharing these details can prevent confusion and even hostility later on.
I understand that sometimes we’re not sure who to trust with the details of our lives. Often, flaws in people’s character (greediness, in particular) don’t appear until an estate is in probate, so knowing who will receive what softens the blow when people’s expectations don’t match the reality of the situation.
Perhaps choosing someone who isn’t also an heir would make better sense. You would leave a list noting all the details with this person and then let your heirs know who to turn to when death or incapacitation happens.
So, what should you take care of now?
- Make a will or trust, including the necessary powers of attorney for health and finances. If you die without a will, the state takes over your estate and decides its fate.
- Make funeral plans and tell your family what those plans are. No one likes to face this eventuality, but, as with wills, it’s a relief to have it done.
- Make an end-of-life plan. Ask your doctor how to create an advance directive that will be your instructions for what you want. Don’t leave it to others to make excruciating choices. If you have pets, include a plan for them to have a new home.
- Make a list of where someone can find all the documents they will need (pink slips, insurance policies, deeds), as well as keys to safety deposit boxes, safes, homes, etc. Identify your lawyer or other professionals you use.
- Advise your heirs of what kind of funeral or memorial you want.
Something relatively new in our estate planning is the protection of digital assets after death: communication (emails and texts), financial (bank, brokerage, credit cards, but also airline miles and online shopping accounts), media (photos and videos stored in the cloud), and social media (Facebook, Instagram, Linkedin, Pinterest, Twitter).
Declare in your will who will have access to your online accounts.
Here is a link with specific details of how to protect these accounts: aplaceformom.com/blog/protect-your-digital-assets-after-death/. It details where you will need death certificates, user ID info, and more. Passwords are a necessity.
The article also gives a list of information to include in the powers of attorney or will/trust that denotes all the digital details the heirs will need to close accounts.
If you are someone who thinks they are jinxing themselves by writing a will or plan, try to see past that emotional gut punch and do what’s best for the people you love.
I feel a need to sigh here. It used to be simpler, didn’t it?
Susan Crosby is a Lodi author and member of the Lodi Senior Citizens Commission.