Q: I have never been a person to make New Year’s resolutions. I have been of the mindset it can set someone up for failure. Due to the recent death of several close friends and listening to their families talk about the legal and financial mess they encountered I am motivated to avoid the same pitfalls. Could you provide some suggestions of things I should be doing to save my own children from the same worries?
A: Without knowing how organized you are some of the following comments may not pertain to your situation, but hopefully others will benefit from the information. It is not unusual for some people like your friends to avoid dealing with topics that make them uncomfortable or procrastinate because they think there is plenty of time to get their affairs in order.
Most people should have a will even if they believe their estate is not worth a great deal. The terms of the will should be updated whenever there is a life altering event such as the death of a spouse, the death of a beneficiary, significant change in assets, remarriage or adding/eliminating a beneficiary. Consult with your attorney for additional advice on an annual basis.
This column has frequently stressed the importance of Advance Directives for everyone of legal age. Expressing your specific wishes regarding end of life issues eases the burden of loved ones trying to decide what should be done. Choose both a primary proxy and an alternate in the event one is not available. Copies of the document should be provided to your physician, hospital, proxy, and legal representative. Adjustments can be made at any time if you change your mind about interventions you want to be used or withheld.
Keep a file of important documents which can be located by a trusted individual, these can be kept in a safe place in the home or safe deposit box at your bank. Insurance papers, deeds to property, investment documents, credit card account information, previous income tax forms should be easily accessed at time of death. Don’t automatically assume your adult children will know what financial institutions you have been dealing with or everything about your financial affairs.