Organizing your death sounds a little depressing, but it will be a blessing to the ones you leave behind if you put a little thought and effort into it now. Recently I’ve been going though it with a long time client and now his executor and it’s been a bit of a challenge. This client had a will but there were a number of details that were not covered and caused considerable difficulty, angst and frustration. What follows are suggestions to smooth the process but check with your accountant and lawyers for their input.
Make sure you have $10,000 in the bank for the attorney’s retainer. If there’s a will, nothing moves forward without the attorney. Also leave funds in place to pay the utilities like water, electric and heat. Even with no one in your house, the house needs to be maintained, including snowplowing and lawn mowing.
Pay the funeral home at least for the minimum service. The family and I sat in the house with our deceased loved one for hours before we were able to move money and pay the funeral home to begin to help us. Making arrangements ahead of time removes some of the distress at that time.
Choose your executor wisely. Will that person be up to the job, should they be younger than you, should they live nearby are good questions to consider. The executor you choose at 30 may not be the right person at 80; consider your options. In the case of my recently deceased client, the executor served as the power of attorney for his friend. That served us as a warm up to the events that were to follow. That was helpful.
Consider adding your power of attorney/executor to the checking account and maybe a credit card, so that bills like electric, condo fees and maintenance can be paid. The executor should not have to pay out of pocket for a home that is not theirs.
Update the addresses of your heirs. You must have current addresses of all your beneficiaries including the charities, in order for your will to go to probate. If you haven’t heard from cousin Charley for 30 years, reach out and make sure he’s still there to collect his inheritance. Do not make your executor have to hire a private investigator to find Charley in the Blue Ridge Mountains. That will be expensive.
Consolidate your bank accounts, credit unions and retirement accounts. The fewer the accounts, the easier for your executor. If you have multiple properties like a cabin by the lake, make sure the deed is easily accessible to your executor and attorney. Consider adding your loved ones to the deed on your house. This way they can maintain or sell the house without the lag of dealing with probate. This also goes for the titles to the cars. If possible transfer ownership of your vehicles before you expire to simplify the process. Probate can takes months to get through, if all goes well. Preparing for probate is all about the documents. Have them ready.
The mail will keep coming. If the executor is out of town, make sure someone picks it up and processes it or have it forwarded. Check that your online subscriptions like medications, dog food and lightbulbs are terminated. If there’s anything personal you do not want the world to see, like old journals, etc. – get rid of them now. Leave no evidence behind that you were nothing less than a delight and beacon of virtue.
Make sure you have a care plan in place for your dog (or cat.) It is exceedingly hard to place your pets after you head to the pearly gates. My little corgi charge went to the kennel until we found her a home with a widowed lady upstate. Without resources on hand, we would have been forced to send her to the pound (with our broken hearts.)
Of course, this all supposes that you are aware that the end is near and you have the capacity to be proactive. In the case of a long illness, some of this can be arranged. If you check out in a split second, then go knowing you did what you could to make people miss you, for the right reason. Good luck organizing!
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