I have assisted in the distribution and administration of more than one trust and estate, and I speak from experience – the process is much easier on the family and takes considerably less time if the deceased was organized.
If the decedent died without a valid will or any estate planning, and the decedent owned any assets upon his or her death, the family has to file a claim in Probate Court to transfer the property and hope that they know what all of the decedent’s assets were. If the decedent died with a valid will, but did not have a trust in place, or did not transfer all of his or her assets into the trust, the family will still have to file a claim in Probate Court. Finally, even if a solid estate plan is in place, there are a number of tasks to be completed and documents to be filed or mailed before the decedent’s estate can be disbursed or administered. To make the process easier on family members attempting to comply with your last wishes, here are some easy things you can do now to help your family later:
- Meet with an attorney to ensure your estate plan is up-to-date, and you have all the documents you need.
- Keep all of your estate planning documents together and in a safe place, and let your attorney or a trusted family member know where they are.
- If you have retirement accounts, money market accounts, or insurance policies where you’ve named beneficiaries, keep all of those document together with your estate planning documents. Confirm that your documents name the beneficiaries you want named. Keep company contact information with the documents so that your family knows who to contact at the company to make a death claim and receive benefits.
- Keep all title documents together with your estate planning documents, or if kept in a safe deposit box or safe, make a note with your estate planning documents altering family of where it is how to access it. This would include title to cars and real estate.
- If you have specific personal items you want to give to certain individuals, make that clear. You can create what is called a “holographic will” for personal items by handwriting (not typed) what items you want to give to which people or entities, write the date on the document and sign it at the end of the document. This does not take the place of an estate plan, but can be used to distribute items such as family heirlooms.
- Finally, keep a list of all the assets you have that will need to be transferred. No, you do not need to list every plate in your cupboard. You should, for example, list which banks you have accounts with and what types of accounts, where you own real property, life insurance policies, and vehicles or “toys” (i.e. boats, ATVs, etc.) you own.
Being organized is relatively easy, and the benefits of the time you take today will be a gift to your family after you are gone. Call an estate planning attorney today to assist you in the process.© 2013 Varnum LLP