Death is not something most of us like to think about and yet getting your affairs in order is advisable for everyone. Pondering your own mortality is probably not high on your list of enjoyable activities and you may think “estate planning” is only for the wealthy, or that—since you’re relatively young and/or healthy—you don’t need to worry about such things, but neither is true. In working with clients on elder and family law matters, I find that with a little planning, your “death” can be one of celebration, give you peace of mind and spare your loved ones a lot of hassle later.
This list that I have compiled is from my years of experience working with clients, but also in assisting my own family members including my dad, Dominic. He has always said to me, “prepare for all life’s events, so that you are prepared for the inevitable.” Death is one of those life events that he has well prepared for, so I am providing some if his advice as well.
1. Execute a Last Will and Testament.
A will is one of the most important estate planning documents you can have, as it details where you would like your property go after your death. Unless you make a will, you are leaving things up to your state’s intestacy laws, which apply when someone dies without a will.
2. Complete a Living Will or Advance Directive.
A living will or advance directive is a legal document in which you name someone to communicate with medical personnel regarding your treatment preferences should you become incapacitated or otherwise unable to express your preferences yourself.
3. Put in Place a Power of Attorney and Health Care Appointment.
A durable power of attorney allows you to name someone to be in charge of making financial decisions for you. A health care appointment does the same for health care decisions ensuring that your wishes regarding medical treatment are followed if you become incapacitated.
4. Review IRA, 401k, etc and Life Insurance/Annuities
Regardless of who you list as beneficiaries in your will, they will not necessarily inherit these accounts unless they are also listed as beneficiary designations. Contact administrators of these accounts to confirm beneficiary status.
5. Secure your digital assets.
In our digital world, you are likely to have subscriptions, accounts and other items. Make a list of accounts and web sites and their passwords. Keep this in a safe place and make sure that someone knows how to find this list.
6. Plan final arrangements.
Final arrangements can include organ donation, as well as funeral plans, including how they are to be paid for. My father was adamant about this being done so that we wouldn’t have to stress when he passed. Thank you Dad.
7. Gather Important Documents and Contact Information.
Property deeds, official certificates (birth, marriage, etc.), the contact information for your attorney, doctor, etc. —all of these as well as legal documents should be put in the same place. Let your loved ones know where you have placed this information.
8. Keep everything current.
Once you put together your estate plan, don’t just put it in that safe place and forget about it. At least yearly, you should revisit the documents to make sure they still reflect your intentions.
9. Talk with your loved ones.
Just getting everything down on paper is a great step forward in estate planning, but talking with your loved ones about your wishes is priceless. The clearer they are on what you want, the more likely it is that your wishes will be followed.
10. Make Peace with Family and Friends
Whether you are young or old, you should make it a habit of making peace family and friends with who you have had disagreements. Everyone will have better feelings all around if you do this. And you increase the chances that you will die a little more comfortably, with peace of mind, and knowing that you are happy with your loved ones.