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Have You Finalized Your Estate Plan & Paperwork?

Do you have a will, advance directives, or other estate planning documents in order? Time to take care of this if you haven’t already done so! If you’ve done it but it’s out of date, please review and update your paperwork. These items are extremely important not only when you die, but if you ever become incapacitated.

How important are they?

Allow me to provide a real life example of how things can go awry if your paperwork isn’t in order:

Sally was added to her in-law’s (Jill and Jack) will as executor many years ago. The in-laws had a blended family and wanted someone who was less invested in family drama to be their executor, but who was still connected to the family. Sally and her husband divorced 10 years ago, her former mother-in-law passed away 5 years ago and her former father-in-law was just recently admitted to the hospital in critical condition. Jack was incoherent, his kidneys were failing and the prognosis was not good.

The family didn’t know where the important paperwork was or if Jack had advance directives or even a power of attorney. Jack owns 3 homes, collector cars and thousands of square feet of collectible furniture and artwork. No one in the family even knew where his checkbook was and there were no co-signers to pay his bills while he was in a coma.

They eventually found his estate documents locked away in a desk they had to pry open and found that nothing had been updated in 20 years! Sally was still listed as executor even though she hadn’t been part of the family since the divorce 10 years ago. The power of attorney documents listed Jack and Jill as each other’s representatives and there weren’t any provisions for anyone else to make decisions or handle bills and money while Jack was unable to do so.

Plans were made to get a court ordered conservatorship which was extremely stressful for the family. None of the adult kids live in the same city as Jack and they didn’t have any local contacts. Sally was contacted and was quite surprised to learn that she was still listed as Jack and Jill’s executor. Not so surprising, Jack and Jill’s kids were also a bit shocked to find out that Sally was the executor. Imagine having to deal with all this while your father is critically ill and cannot communicate.

...As it turned out, Jack has terminal cancer and is being cared for by his family.

I’m sharing this very sad story with you to illustrate how absolutely important it is to have your paperwork in order. I realize it’s an emotional and difficult task, but it’s not fair to your loved ones to be forced to deal with financial unknown while grieving.Is creating a will and writing an advance directive fun? Not really. Is it absolutely necessary? 100%. Time to get work!

Action Items:

  • Create a plan with your spouse, child, friend or attorney to take care of your business if you are incapacitated. Who will be responsible for what and where will they find the information they need?
  • Create your end of life notebook so someone will have access to important information needed to take care of your finances, file all applicable life insurance claims, access your advance directives so your wishes can be honored, etc. 
  • If you have minor children, review your plans for care of your children regularly and make sure your documents align with your plan.