Procrastinators, listen up! Most of us have not yet gotten around to signing up for our membership in the Procrastinators' Club. But that's a topic for another day, agreed? More important, many of us keep postponing estate planning. It's not a topic anyone other than an estate attorney relishes. Thinking about it forces us to ponder distributing our stuff to others. If we're honest, that runs against our innate selfishness.
How should we approach this issue? A reasonable deadline is the end of October, a comforting near half year away. What an appropriate time to get serious about estate planning--holidays around then all commemorate the deceased (Halloween, All Saints' Day, All Souls' Day, Dia de Muertos)!
But in addition to a deadline, motivation for procrastinators is important. Rehearsing your own death—contemplating what would happen if you're unexpectedly out of the picture—raises questions we each need to consider. Picture yourself gone, and imagine those left behind, dealing with the following:
1. How difficult will it be to inventory your estate?
Do your heirs know what you actually own? Will they have to wait for the arrival of account statements or tax documents to confirm your financial accounts? How about that insurance policy your college buddy sold you years ago? Is it off your radar screen, forgotten with the passage of time? Do you have a safe deposit box in a bank somewhere with that collection of coins or stamps you started at 12? By now, that ought to be worth something.
Taking stock of what's yours can be tedious. If instead of being remembered for your disorganization, suppose your major assets are all identified. Those you leave behind will appreciate your thoughtfulness in arranging your affairs. Download our "Peace of Mind Checklist" . Go ahead—do it now. You'll find time over the next six months to complete it.
2. You've passed on--how will your stuff be passed out?
This may require some work. Do you really know how your executor will distribute your assets after you die? Have you reviewed your IRA, insurance, or benefit plan beneficiary forms to see who actually gets what?
How about your will? It's one thing to sit in a lawyer's office and nod your agreement to a chart that discusses where certain abstract assets go. It may be quite another thing to personalize the exercise with your current holdings. And God forbid that you don't even have a will! Seriously, do you want a judge who doesn't know your family to decide the disposition of your stuff?
3. Will your survivors know whom to call for help?
Settling an estate doesn't happen in a vacuum. Those you leave behind will likely need help from an attorney, an accountant, and your financial advisor. They may also need to consult with your insurance agent or your company benefits representative. Identify those people now—don't make your spouse or your children piece together your contacts. And don't forget to mention to those you've nominated to be executor or trustee of their potential role in settling your affairs. You'd likely prefer that it's only your death that's the surprise—not the obligation you've imposed upon them. The "Peace of Mind Checklist" mentioned earlier provides space for noting your important contacts.
4. Is there unfinished business you need to take care of?
If it's important to you, have you written a "letter of instruction" to your executor or other survivors about your final wishes on funeral arrangements, distribution of personal effects, or other matters? Have you changed your mind about leaving nothing to that prodigal cousin of yours? Is there a final letter you want to write to your children, expressing your love and hopes for them?
So Now You're Motivated
A light-hearted treatment of estate planning doesn't diminish the seriousness of what's actually involved. Postponing initiatives you can take before you die may result in regrets, unnecessary work imposed on others, and different memories of you than those you might have hoped for. You need not dread estate planning. Rehearsing your death—thinking through the implications and taking corrective action—can be a thought-provoking exercise and ensure you'll be leaving behind the legacy you want for those you love.
And if you haven't yet thought through your estate planning issues, we'd be happy to sit down with you before you meet your estate attorney. A good discussion of your issues can clarify your thoughts and keep the momentum going. Give us a call—before Halloween!
This is only intended to provide a general overview of important estate planning concepts. This document is not intended nor should it be considered as legal advice. Investec Wealth Strategies and its advisors do not provide legal advice. Since estate laws are always subject to interpretations and possible changes in the future, we recommend that you seek the counsel of your attorney concerning your specific situation.