Most people don't like to plan ahead. Perhaps it is in our very nature to avoid having to make estate plans, for fear of facing our own mortality if we talk about the "D" word. Maybe if we keep quiet, it will just go away. It is the proverbial "elephant in the room" no one ever wants to talk about. We are now at a point in our lives, and with our massive aging population, that forces us to think about planning ahead and many other challenging issues and decisions with our loved ones.
A common excuse for not getting your affairs in order is the cost of several professionals that are truly worth their weight in gold. These professionals are an estate planning or elder law attorney, a financial advisor/planner, a CPA, and an expert like myself who specializes in personal property. If you are fortunate to enlist the help of a recommended professional, they will greatly aid in the process of getting your wishes for yourself, for others, and for your possessions documented.
Where do you begin?
Have that difficult conversation with your parents.Parents, also have that difficult conversation with your children. It's a two-way street and both generations need to meet in the middle. Your children don't want to guess at your wishes some day. Chances are, they would guess incorrectly and then spend the remainder of their lives wondering if they made the right decisions. Boomer children really need a guidance system from their parents, a map if you will, to help them navigate the way, should you become impaired or suddenly pass away.
As for the Boomer child, you too need to open up and invite conversation with your parent(s). Start asking questions prior to infirmity and come from a place of love and compassion. For example, "Mom, Sue and I have been worried about you. We would like to know what your final wishes are, because dad never discussed them. It occurred to us that we want to know what these wishes are because we want to fulfill them. Do you have a will, trust, power of attorney, etc? Where are these important papers kept?" This is just a sample of how to approach it; this is necessary to get the answers you need.
Make sure you and your parents have a Will or Trust, an Executor chosen, and a Durable Power of Attorney. Determine if your parents have made out a will. Know the location and the executor of the will. If they do not have a will, explain the value of having one. Make an appointment with a local estate planning or elder law attorney to draw up a will or trust. Be aware that the validity of handwritten wills and internet wills are often challenged.
Making these important decisions now, while you are still able, ensures your wishes will be fulfilled. It is equally important that the children, now tending to their parents, also go through the same procedure to protect their children. An attorney and financial professional can help you get the most from your assets, plan for the future, know all the requirements of taxes, and many other issues so daunting and foreign to most of us. Remember to enlist their help.
Location of important documents.I can't begin to tell you how many of my clients have no idea where their papers are, or where their parents' kept their papers. Suddenly someone becomes sick and may die and no one can find any legal papers. Know where they are located; have a copy made for the executor. Location of these papers is not the only important thing to remember. Know usernames and passwords to their computer, location of keys for the safe deposit box, beneficiary information, location of bank accounts, insurance documents, etc.
Who will handle your bills, expenses, and financial portfolio if something happens to you? Make arrangements ahead of time, whether you choose your financial professional, CPA, your child/heir, or power of attorney.
Division of Assets. As an expert in this field, I see everyone struggle with this issue, because they don't want to make a plan ahead of time and potentially hurt someone's feelings. After your death, they will fight, kick, and scream until they get what they want, so it is best to take matters into your own hands now -- you tell them what you want.
Talk to your children about your estate. Invite them to request things that have special meaning to them. Prepare a wish list of what each heir would like to have. Once they all tell you what they would like, have a personal property appraiser come in and assign a value to these items. Make your decisions based on equitable distribution.
Let your heirs know you will do your best to be fair, and that they will know exactly what you are leaving to each of them. Taking the mystery out of the process reduces the possibility of conflict and offers peace and appreciation to your children.
Best of all, gift items to your children/heirs while you are still alive. It will help thin out your home, leave little to fight over at the time of your death, and most importantly, you can see the joy on the recipient's face when you hand it to them. What a great idea!
End-of-Life decisions. No one wants to make life or death decisions. An informed decision is better than one where you have no idea what the loved one wanted. No one should ever have to guess and then live with that guess. It is up to each of us to decide to what extent we want medical personnel to extend our lives. Talk about it with your family and get it in writing.
Funeral plans.We don't want to think about our parents' funerals, but it brings your loved ones peace of mind when they do talk about it, so listen and write down the details.
Avoid a crisis situation. By the time we finally figure out "the elephant is there in the room" with us, we have fallen into a crisis mode where we are making rash and hasty decisions that are not fully explained or understood. Do not operate from a crisis mode.
Try to educate yourself, enlist the help of professionals ahead of time, document everything, and keep the file handy when the time comes. You might still be in a state of emotional angst, but you will have what you need. You will feel comfortable knowing you won't have to "guess" what your loved one wanted.
Copyright 2010, The Estate Lady
Julie Hall, known as The Estate Lady, is an estate expert who specializes in personal property. With more than eighteen years experience, she has assisted thousands of individuals in the daunting and often painful process of managing their deceased parents' affairs. She is a speaker to national organizations, civic groups, businesses, churches, and professional organizations. http://www.theestatelady.com
She enjoys sharing her knowledge through education and has recently launched an online training curriculum at the American Society of Estate Liquidators.
She has authored a best-selling book titled "THE BOOMER BURDEN: How to Deal With Your Parents' Lifetime Accumulation of Stuff," currently available on Amazon.com. Her second book is titled, "A Boomer's Guide to Cleaning Out Your Parents' Estate in 30 Days or Less," and is a companion take-along guide to "THE BOOMER BURDEN."
Julie writes a weekly blog which is available at http://estatelady.wordpress.com, called The Estate Lady Speaks.