E316 Estate Planning Dos and Don’t Bothers for Solo Agers
Since we do so many probates, we see what parts of your planning actually helped with probate (dos), and which ones didn’t really matter (don’t bothers).
We are reviewing this info so that you don’t spend too much of your valuable time on planning that won’t help all that much. This is based on our annual executor check in calls, in which we hear from our clients who have well intended plans to gather information for us, should we need it. Which in most cases, we don’t. We are trying to save you stress and make the estate planning process a little bit easier.
Solo ager estate planning “dos”
Good and proper storage of original documents is important. It’s best to keep the original with your professional executor or other third party. Do not keep it yourself. This is for many reasons, such as access your home or apartment. Additionally, if a third party loses your will, probate could still move forward with a copy. However, if you lose it, it’s presumed that you intentionally destroyed it. Same goes for a safe deposit box – it’s hard to get access to this. It’s not impossible, but it’s very challenging.
Update your emergency contacts and be sure your executor is among those listed. An emergency contact list should be given to someone who will know of your death. This could be a building manager, doorman, neighbor, primary care physician, etc. You want to make sure they know who to notify in the event of your passing, including of importance, your executor and next of kin.
You should also review your beneficiary designations. We have talked before about why we don’t like beneficiary designations, but if you have them, make sure up to date. Or better yet, get rid of them. You certainly want to make sure they represent your wishes, and not your wishes 10 or 20 years ago.
“Don’t bothers” for your solo ager estate plan
Don’t use treasure maps. We have received detailed letters and emails with where the will is, where their important documents are, and even where their spare keys are. More often than not, the location of these items will change by the time of your passing. It may take us longer to use the treasure map to find them than it would to simply look on our own. Plus, it would be a waste of time searching if they have been moved. It’s not worth the amount of time you’d spend writing this type of “map.”
We don’t need contact lists. Typically, the lists we’ve seen include building managers, financial advisors, etc. These change often. We find when we make these calls, the people on the list no longer even work there.
Speaking of lists, detailed lists of assets which include balances and very specific info is also not needed. High level information is good enough (such as the name of financial institution). Balances change daily, so by the time you write it down, it’s likely changed.
Sort of helpful
There are a few things we would categorize as sort of helpful, but you don’t need to spend time on these, if you don’t want.
Password lists are one example of a sort of helpful thing to do. A list is nice to have, but post-death access to online accounts is not permitted, even if we have your password and log in. We simply can’t use those passwords. Email and social accounts may have some use to be able to access names and addresses, although again, we have rarely used these. Same with phone passwords. We seldom log into a decedent’s phone, and if we do, it’s only to find a contact name that we couldn’t find elsewhere.
A high level asset list is sort of helpful. It will give us a general sense of what you own to point us in the right direction. We would use this list along with the other items we collect (mail, past tax returns, bank statements, etc.) to be sure we aren’t missing something.
A list of contacts that are likely to not change is also sort of helpful. This includes next of kin, your primary care doctor, and possibly your CPA. It’s good info to know, but likely, we would get the newest information from the documents we have gathered.
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