Cleaning Finances to Assist the Estate Planning Process
While the end of one’s life can come at any time, most people have some forewarning of this event, and can prepare for it. One integral aspect of transitioning a family through the death process is the creation of an estate plan that will direct them how to handle a loved one’s affairs after death. An estate plan is an important feature of planning for death, but there are additional measures a person can take to make the loss easier for the survivors to navigate legally and logistically, particularly when it comes to finances. However, the process is also applicable to tangible property, such as the contents of a home, vehicles and collectibles. When someone dies, there are a number of decisions that must be made immediately, including legal mechanisms that regulate access to information and finances, as well as the ability to transfer ownership of property to an heir. A discussion of the steps a person can take in early days of retirement, as well as options to simplify personal and financial affairs as one nears the end to streamline estate planning issues, will follow below.
By the time a person starts to approach retirement, he/she often has a complicated and diverse financial portfolio with numerous accounts and a spouse and/or children that may not have a clear picture of what there is, how it has been set up, and even the various financial institutions, properties, insurance policies, and pension benefits that might exist. Simplifying financial affairs can make it easier for family members to take over upon death or incapacity, and also provide some protection against exploitation and fraud from others. These dangers are an unfortunate reality for seniors in mental decline, so taking precautions in advance of this situation can reduce the ability of a third party to take advantage of a person in a vulnerable state. Some options for simplifying financial accounts and controlling access include:
- consolidating accounts – the more accounts a person has, and the more financial institutions involved, the harder it is to track and identify suspicious activity;
- setting-up auto pay – missed payments, as memory problems begin, can lead to unnecessary costs, such as fees and penalties; and
- reducing the number of open and active credit cards.
In addition to the precautions mentioned above, a person can delegate authority over his/her financial affairs to another through a power of attorney, though this document must be executed while a person is still fully competent, another motivation to plan ahead for these issues. Considerable thought should be devoted to picking the person to take over this responsibility, and consulting with an experienced estate planning attorney to ensure the documents are properly executed is a key component of this process. Another part of delegating this authority is at least telling the trusted person where to find the information he/she needs to access accounts, if not giving the person the information directly in advance. Online access to account information, with carefully chosen usernames and passwords, can also be extremely helpful.
Prepping Affairs for Death
Putting together an emergency file of important documents to direct a trusted individual or surviving family members on what to do once death or incapacity occurs also directly impacts how smooth or difficult the handling of the estate will be. Examples of documents and information that should be included are:
- all trust and will documents;
- advance health care directives and powers of attorney;
- birth and marriage certificates;
- Social Security card;
- house/car titles and other ownership documents;
- insurance policies;
- a list of all financial accounts;
- contact information for attorneys, accountants and financial planners; and
- copies of one’s driver’s license, passport and credit cards.
Having multiple copies of these documents (both paper and digital), as well as keeping trusts, wills, advance directives and powers of attorney with one’s estate planning attorney, will guard against loss or destruction and better ensure their proper implementation.
Get Legal Advice
Estate planning should not be a one-time process, and requires reassessment at regular intervals to account for changing circumstances and goals. Attorney William Rambaum has decades of experience helping Florida seniors with their estate planning needs, and knows how to arrange an estate plan that will keep you financially healthy during life and provide security to your family after you are gone. Contact the Oldsmar law firm to schedule an appointment.