Estate planning: What your family needs to know when you’re gone
Most people don’t like to think about it, much less talk about it. The subject of death is fraught with understandable emotion — a factor that often prevents us from communicating vital information. Yet, it’s important to let your family or financial advisors know your intentions and leave them with organized access to the information they’ll need. Below are eight action steps you should take today.
- Develop an estate plan. An estate plan includes a will, trust, durable power of attorney, and a healthcare power of attorney.
- The will and trust dictate what happens to your assets when you die.
- The power of attorney enables someone to act on your behalf for financial transactions if you’re disabled, but terminates upon your passing.
- The healthcare power of attorney allows someone to make medical and end-of-life decisions on your behalf.
- Identify the team who will handle your affairs. This includes an executor and trustee. These roles are administratively complex and come with the burden of making emotional decisions that may upset family dynamics. It may be helpful to name a professional who understands the process and technical requirements but can also remove himself or herself emotionally.
- Clearly state your intentions for your personal property. Your possessions may hold financial and sentimental value. A signed list of your personal property (such as jewelry, art, tools, vehicles, furniture, etc.) detailing who should receive it can simplify the distribution of these assets.
- Create a personal balance sheet to identify assets and liabilities. You want to make it very clear where all of your accounts are and how they’re titled. A personal balance sheet can help.
- Verify your electronic records will be available. Are you storing personal and financial information in the cloud? User agreements for these sites vary; so ensure your loved ones can access this information when necessary.
- Review the titling of your assets. If you have a trust, be sure that ownership of your assets reflects this. That can help you avoid the public and costly process of probate. Confirm beneficiary designations on life insurance policies and retirement plans.
- Tell your family who your financial team is and how to contact them. In addition, it may be helpful to keep these professionals updated on the contact information for your executor, trustee, and beneficiaries.
- Determine how to best communicate your estate plan to your family. Every family handles the subject of money and inheritance differently. Some are very transparent while others remain more private. A family meeting may help everyone understand the plan for wealth transfer.
Losing a loved one is always difficult, but properly planning and communicating the financial aspects of your estate’s affairs can make this process much smoother for your family and reduce their burden during a difficult and emotional time.