The Blog

August 23, 2017

The State of Your Estate

by Erika Fettner

For some reason, whenever someone needs help cleaning out a family member’s house, due to a move into a retirement home or recently passing away, I always seem to get a phone call. Maybe it’s because I’m good at cleaning. More likely, it’s because I never say no! Now, with all of my experience, I have found that there are lessons to be learned from these situations.

Messy desk with stacks of paperwork

Organize documents now!

The number one action to take now is to help your parents and family members organize all of their financial and legal documents. It is much less frustrating later on when you know where to find things. Of course, this doesn’t apply if you enjoy searching for one document in the desk drawer, another paper in that stack of unopened mail from last month and an important certificate … who knows where?!

Know bank & financial institution details.

Know where to find account numbers and current passwords to computers and accounts. When you are dealing with critical situations that require clear and quick thinking, it’s much easier when you know how to readily access information.

Name a beneficiary on a checking account.

Have your loved one add your name as a beneficiary. That will allow you to pay bills and house payments for a few months until life insurance money is available.

Get lists!

Make sure your family member maintains a current list of important phone numbers as well as a list of current medications.

Get a will.

Without a will or living trust, assets will be distributed based on intestate laws and what the court decides. Friends and family could come out of the woodwork to make claims or pressure beneficiaries for money based on hard luck stories.

Better yet, get a living trust

Although a will ensures that disposition of an estate happens according to the deceased’s wishes, it still requires a court process to complete: probate. Probate takes a long time, it’s public and it’s expensive. A living trust works like a will and avoids probate.

Get a medical Power of Attorney.

Have your loved one name you on a medical Power of Attorney and/or include your name on their HIPAA form. This will allow you to speak to medical professionals in when your family member cannot, such as in cases of Alzheimer’s or medical emergencies.

Get a financial Power of Attorney.

In case your loved one can no longer make financial or legal decisions, it is important to name a trusted person to do that on their behalf.

I know this is a tough subject that most people don’t want to think about until it’s too late. Yet these few basic actions can save lots of time and frustration when a need arises.