Expanding Estate Planning

by Jonel Thames Leake, CPCU, ASLI, AAI, CPIW, DAE, CLP

The trust paperwork is signed, and all your assets have been transferred into your trust. Estate planning has commenced. If you haven’t set up a trust or if you don’t plan on setting one up, your estate planning may consist of making sure your beneficiaries are all up to date and that you have a will in place. Whatever steps you take, it is important for you to plan for the time that you are no longer here.

As someone who recently experienced the death of a family member, I want to remind you that traditional estate planning is only the first step. To make things easier for your heirs, there are a few other things I recommend you do.

Gather all paperwork regarding your trust, life insurance, bank accounts, investment accounts and your will, put them in one location and let someone know where they are. Maybe you don’t want your family members to know what your will says. That’s ok. Pick a trusted friend and have them hold the information. You could also place them in a safe deposit box at the bank with someone else on the account. The important thing is to make sure that the information is all together and easy to locate. You don’t want your paperwork scattered in various drawers around your house. From personal experience, I can tell you this will add unnecessary stress to your family members.

Gather other paperwork such as military discharge paperwork, titles to vehicles, social security cards, birth certificates, marriage certificates, and tax information and place it all in a safe place. The military discharge paperwork is necessary for the funeral home. If your will doesn’t state burial instructions, a document outlining your wishes should also be included. You should also include information on where you have your home and auto insurance and any service providers for your home. Once again, it is important that you let someone know where this information is stored.

Make sure you have your electronic information documented where it can be easily located by family members. I am not suggesting that you post your passwords on a sticky note on the side of your computer, but rather create a list saved in a secure place. Don’t forget to update these passwords as you change them or as you add new accounts to your online presence. Don’t forget to include passwords for your phone and social media accounts as well.

Finally, your family members will have to dispose of your stuff. Consider decluttering now to prevent your heirs from having to do it later. Make sure that what you keep is important to you. It can have an important function, or it can have significance to you. Be honest with yourself. Will these items be of value to your heirs, or will they up in the dumpster? The paper plates you get every year for the holidays and only use a partial package… likely to be thrown out. Your second-grade report card might be of interest to you, but I will tell you, it is not that interesting to anyone else.

Margareta Magnusson, author of the book, “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Make Your Loved Ones’ Lives Easier and Your On Life More Pleasant explains the benefits of decluttering. Not only will it help your family when you are gone, it is also shown to make your life more enjoyable now. If you plan on handing items down to family members, consider the enjoyment you would get seeing them enjoying the items now. Before you expand your collection of dolls or other items, ask yourself if the value to you outweighs the burden 300 items will be to those clearing out your residence. Unfortunately, many items do not hold their value and what you think might be valuable may end up in the landfill. Even if you only clear out 10 percent of your “stuff”, that is 10 percent less work your heirs will have to do.

Estate planning is all about making it better for your loved ones after you are gone. Hopefully you will be around for a long time but, by taking a few additional steps now, you will have the peace of mind that your heirs will have an easier time dealing with your estate.

Jonel Thames Leake, CPCU, ASLI, AAI, CPIW, DAE, CLP is the current Region I Vice President. She has promised her son that she is working on all of the above recommendations. 

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