My father recently asked me what was on my wish list for gifts this year. As an estate planning attorney, that got me thinking about what things would be on my wish list for clients to do to ensure they can enjoy the holiday festivities with peace of mind. Without further ado, here are five things I wish for my clients and their families, and which make great conversation topics over a holiday family supper.
1. Estate Plan Documents for Every Young Adult on your Gift List
If you have a child, niece or nephew, or other young adult you care about who will soon turn age 18 and be heading off to college, it is important that young adult create some basic estate planning documents before heading off to college. A power of attorney and health care proxy will ensure a parent or other trusted person can make financial and health care decisions for that young adult in the event of his or her incapacity.
2. A Completed Tangible Personal Property Memorandum
When you visited your estate planning attorney, he or she may have discussed with you completing a Tangible Personal Property Memorandum. The Memorandum is a separate document that is incorporated by reference in your Last Will and Testament. It identifies specific items of personal property and the individuals who you would like to receive each specific item from your estate after your death. For example, the Memorandum might state that your wedding ring is to be distributed to your son Max after your death. If it is important that specific people get specific items from your estate and you have not put that information down in writing on the Memorandum (and sent us a copy of it), now is the time to do it.
3. A Complete List of Digital Accounts and Passwords
Now more so than ever, it is imperative that you create and maintain a paper or electronic list of all the financial accounts, email accounts, social media accounts, and other accounts you access online along with their associated usernames and passwords. Your attorney-in-fact, Personal Representative or Trustee will need to access your accounts if you are incapacitated or deceased to manage and/or close your accounts. As more and more information is solely shared and stored electronically, providing a list of accounts and passwords for your fiduciary will help make his or her job much easier when the time comes that he or she must assist you or settle your estate.
4. Written Funeral Wishes
Many of my clients have a pretty good idea about what they would like to happen following their death in terms of funeral and burial or cremation instructions. They may have shared those wishes verbally with family but not put them down in writing. Now is the time to memorialize your burial or cremation wishes and funeral wishes in writing. A Directive as to Remains accomplishes this goal and is tailored to fit your wishes. For example, Aunt Sally might prepare as part of her estate plan a Directive as to Remains that states she wants a green burial and a gathering of friends and family to celebrate her life.
5. Confirmation of Beneficiaries on Retirement Accounts and Life Insurance Policies
A crucial step that is sometimes missed during the hectic rhythm of life is designating beneficiaries of your retirement accounts and life insurance policies. There is no time like the present to confirm that you have designated the appropriate primary beneficiary and contingent (back-up) beneficiary on those assets. Doing so will guarantee that your retirement accounts and life insurance death benefits will pass to the correct individuals outside of probate at your death.
And there you have it, my estate planner wish list for every client to complete this holiday season. Doing so will give you (and me!) peace of mind that you are leaving your loved ones clear directions regarding your wishes and making it easier for them to manage your estate while you are alive or after your death.
Attorney Abigail V. Poole is a senior associate attorney with the Dedham firm of Samuel, Sayward & Baler LLC which focuses on advising its clients in the areas of estate planning, estate settlement and elder law matters. She is an active member and President-Elect of the Massachusetts Chapter of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA). This article is not intended to provide legal advice or create or imply an attorney-client relationship. No information contained herein is a substitute for a personal consultation with an attorney. For more information visit www.ssbllc.com or call 781/461-1020.
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