Location, Location, Location re: Estate Planning Documents
Friday, September 26, 2014

You might think those three words - "Location, location, location!" - are uttered more by realtors than estate planning attorneys, but I beg to differ. Of course, when I repeat the phrase to clients I am not talking about the site of new home or office, but rather the location of individuals' most important planning documents.

The New York Times recently published an article, "There's More To Estate Planning Than Just the Will"  that echoes the same sentiment - family members and close friends need to know where they can locate documentation that so often becomes critical after a loved one's passing. A Will establishes directives for disposing of a deceased's assets, but it may not disclose where those assets can be found. In addition, a Will can be silent on a deceased's wishes involving funeral and burial arrangements or other details important to those left behind. In the wake of one's passing, if these important documents cannot be found, you run the risk of having your last wishes go unfulfilled. Thus, it is vital to not only have an estate plan in place, but to have it in a place where it can be found.

The aforementioned New York Times article told the story of John J. Scroggin, who knew his father wanted to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery, but did not have the right paperwork on-hand after his father's passing. "I called Arlington and they told me I needed his DD 214 [military discharge papers] to bury him at the cemetery. I had never heard of a DD 214, but they told me if I could not find it, they would put him in cold storage for six months while they found it." After a frantic search, Scroggin found his father's DD 214, which his father had been using as a bookmark. Not all stories end with a "find" or on a positive note. The article also details the story of Maureen Nelson, who described her situation, "My mom died and told both my sister and I that she was a member of the Neptune Society, which cremates the deceased and scatters the ashes at sea." After her mom's passing, however, the Society informed the sisters they had no record of her mom's membership and could not accept her body. These situations could have been avoided with proper planning.

Do not let your planning stop with the drafting of a Will. Distribute it, along with copies or details about where to find other important papers and information - such as health care directives, bank account information, password log-ins, or power of attorney authorizations - to those you know and trust to see it through. Even seemingly mundane details, such as what service providers or companies are paid using automatic debit withdrawals from an account, can be of huge benefit in the chaotic time period after one's passing. Writing out the minute details of your daily life may seem uncomfortable, but think of it as planning for loved ones' peace of mind rather than for your own passing. And when thinking of where to keep this important information for others' future use, remember these three important words: location, location, location!


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