Any idea how your assets will be divvied up after your death? If you don’t have a current will, there’s a good chance everyone will be disappointed. It’s unpleasant and most of us don’t like sitting down with those we love to discuss the material possessions that remain after we’re gone.
Still, it’s an important part of our financial responsibilities and, of course, life as a whole. The last thing you want is for some stranger making those decisions. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you set about this less than pleasant task.
Honestly, the hardest part is beginning the process. A financial advisor or attorney will be a great guiding resource during the process. In fact, in some states, there are legalities that require professional input. Getting your plan together will help you cover those bases and also serve as a starting point for those awkward talks no one looks forward to.
There’s also another important aspect to consider. Many people overlook a living will, either because they’re not sure of what it is or they don’t know where to find information for putting one together. According to the Mayo Clinic, living wills and other advance directives detail your exact wishes and preferences regarding treatment if you’re faced with a serious accident or illness. They’re legal documents that override emotional family members and they speak for you when you’re not able to speak for yourself; for instance, if you’re in a coma.
The important thing to keep in mind when it comes to living wills and other advance directives is that they aren’t just for older adults. We never know when an end-of-life situation will occur. Having those bases covered can tremendously assist your family members as the burden is lifted off of them. Financial advisers have long since advocated living wills for their clients.
It’s crucial that you put together an ever-evolving asset document. Sit down – either alone, with your spouse and or with your legal representation – and list all of your assets. Now’s the time to decide who receives what after the debt associated with your estate is paid off.
That debt might include credit card balances, mortgages and other loans. Always keep it revised and always document your revisions in such a way that there’s no question of their authenticity. Remember, it’s not only about material things that have monetary value. Some of the biggest family wars have begun over things that have no value in terms of money, but rather, are valued because of sentimental reasons.
Also, if you’ve remarried or have children from a previous relationship or if you’re in a state that doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage, it’s even more important to memorialize your wishes. Again, some of the biggest family problems occur when a stepparent withholds assets of a deceased spouse. Same thing with same sex marriage; many families never accepted their gay family member’s partner. It can lead to hurt feelings and there are many instances where the surviving partner was left without even a home.
You might want to consider full disclosure in terms of what your debt is and what your estate amounts to. Many surviving relatives expect a handsome payout, but are shocked to discover the estate was all but eliminated due to credit card debt or an upside down mortgage. By laying it all out on the table, you might save your surviving spouse a lot of grief in having to explain the situation.
The first thing your lawyer will likely advise is to name an executor. This is the person who will shoulder the responsibility of ensuring the decisions outlined in your will are respected and carried out. Choose wisely!
Some experts say that not only should you name an executor, but also cover the bases in those instances when you outlive your executor. Do this by selecting an alternate.
Finally, it is certainly worth the investment of working alongside a financial consultant. Because of the legalities and complications, you can easily eliminate much of that stress by hiring someone to serve as a guide through the process. Again, choose wisely – due diligence counts in these efforts.
You can find kits that allow you to do it yourself, but unless you’re extremely confident in your efforts, you might further complicate matters for those loved ones left behind. Death, while it’s natural, is brutally stressful too for survivors. The grieving process is overwhelming and anything we can do to ease that burden while we’re still living can make a world of difference for those we love after we’ve passed.
One final note: avoid the treasure searches. Name your executor, ensure the filing and other legalities are in place and keep it current. We’ve all heard of how eccentricities have complicated the reading of the will in some families. Do your family a favor and skip the theatrics.
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