Guest Column: Craig Anderson, Esq.
Surprisingly, a majority of Americans die without leaving a will or another written statement explaining how they would like to have their estate handled. What’s also remarkable is that even those who do make a will or a revocable trust often keep the contents secret from other family members, even those named in the document as a trusted “fiduciary,” that is, one who acts on behalf of another, such as an executor or trustee. Unfortunately, if the document cannot be found, or if it is found but is unclear in any way, an estate may be handled contrary to an individual’s wishes.
How can you avoid making your family members and beneficiaries struggle through preventable estate problems?
- Prepare your important estate planning documents with a reputable and trusted professional. This is not a do-it-yourself task. You don’t know what you don’t know. Be open and honest about your intentions in your confidential relationship with the lawyer and let him or her guide you to the right language and formulas.
- If you include a charitable institution or foundation in your legacy plans, let that organization or entity know about it. You don’t have to let them read through a complete copy of your estate plan, but the charity needs to know about your intended gift and how it is to be used. The charity will not be on your “heirs-at-law” list, the designation used most commonly among states to notify in the event of your death, and your other beneficiaries might not fulfill that bequest without prompting.
- Once your estate documents are in final form and signed, place them for safekeeping in a secure location. There are several good choices, including the courthouse in your jurisdiction. Most court probate offices offer storage of these documents at nominal cost.
- Also, make a record of important documents and other information your administrator or trustee will need. Think how lost your beneficiaries will be if they don’t know any of your User IDs and passwords for all your electronic accounts.
It’s wise to devote some effort to planning for what happens after you’re gone, to make sure your loved ones know exactly what you wanted your legacy to be, and that your wishes are followed. If we may be of any help in this process, please contact Kate Hillas, Director of Planned Giving Programs at (800) 654-8364.