Probate Lawyers Say Talk to Your Parents About Estate Planning

Probate lawyers say it's important to talk to your parents about estate planning.
Probate lawyers say it’s important to talk to your parents about estate planning.

Probate lawyers often meet with adult children who are trying to settle their parents’ estates. Many times these children are surprised by their parents’ financial situation and the lack of estate planning that their parents have done. When little or no estate planning has been done, it can be expensive and time consuming to deal with all the unresolved issues that  result. That’s why probate lawyers strongly encourage adult children to talk to their aging parents about their finances, their feelings about health care decisions, and whether they have an estate plan in place. But this is easier said than done. How do you start a conversation that includes a discussion of a family member’s mortality?

Sometimes the way to ease into a conversation with aging parents about money and their estate plan, is to discuss your own. If you want to know about their will or estate plan, start by explaining your own estate plan, how you’ve decided to set up your estate and then ask what they’ve done for themselves.

The conversation may feel awkward the first time you start it, says the Daily Local News in the article “Ask your folks about their financial plans,” but you need to get to where everyone is comfortable having the conversation. Your parents’ plans might impact yours, and visa versa. So, it’s good to talk “early and often” not only about your parents’ estate plan, but how they are planning for the costs of retirement, including health care.

It’s important for aging parents to understand that, if something happens to them, their children are the most likely ones to step in and take charge. Your parents need to understand that the more you know in advance, the better equipped you’ll be to make sure that their wishes are followed.

A good opening is to talk about your plans to save for retirement. Ask your parents what they did, or do, about 401(k) contributions. This will give you insight into how well-prepared and knowledgeable they are about retirement savings. If you’re house hunting, that’s an excellent opportunity to get them talking about their furture plans for living arrangements. Do you need to buy a home with a possible “in-law” suite in mind? It’s not a bad question to ask. It shows that you are thinking about their future needs.

Probate lawyers have seen how untangling an estate when there’s no will and no advance planning has been done can tear a family apart. That’s the last thing you or your parents want. Talking openly with them about money, trusts, wills, life insurance and advance medical directives, will give you an idea of what they have or have not done to plan for the future. It may spur your parents on to move forward with their estate plan, if they have been procrastinating.

Even if you learn that they haven’t done any planning and don’t have a will, that is better than not knowing until it’s too late. If you learn that this is the case, you can start educating them about what will happen if they don’t meet with an estate planning attorney. You can offer to take them to meet your estate planning attorney or to give them a few names so that they can decide who they are most comfortable with. This could help them avoid some common estate planning mistakes.

Setting up your own estate plan is another opportunity to ask your parents what they did and what their thoughts are about your  estate plan. Their family may have never done any estate planning, and they might have more than a few family horror stories to share. In that case, you can help them change the family’s dynamic by encouraging them to take a different path.

Reference: Barchart (April 16, 2019) “Ask your folks about their financial plans”

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Not a Little Black Book, but a Big Blue Estate Planning Binder

An estate planning binder would make it easier for an executor to sort through a deceased relative's financial information.
It’s overwhelming to sort through a deceased relative’s financial information.

Life happens, when we’re not prepared. A relative dies unexpectedly and you find out that the estate planning documents name you as the executor charged with the responsibility of taking care of probate and settling your relative’s estate. Where do you start gathering information?

One of the most considerate things we can do for our family is to have all of our important information in one place. That’s why, at Galligan & Manning, we give our clients what we call the “Big Blue Estate Planning Binder” that includes not only their estate planning documents, but other documents that will help in settling their affairs. Without this information, the result could be a mess for those you love.

The task of untangling someone’s financial responsibilities and their legal matters is emotionally and mentally draining, especially when they have not prepared any kind of plan to convey important information. It’s not just making the calls and explaining who you are and why you are calling but having to constantly be starting at the death certificate of someone you love. That’s why everyone should consider putting together an estate planning binder.

An estate planning binder is a place to keep names, numbers and important documents. Think of it as a reference book for your life that contains the information that loved ones will need in the event of a sudden death or illness.

You should tell the people you have named to handle your affairs about your estate planning binder and let them know where it is located. In addition to copies of your estate planning documents, this is what you should include in it:

Medical Information: Include surgeries, medications, recent test results, treatments and the name and contact information of healthcare providers.

Health Insurance Info: The name of the company, a copy of your health insurance card, your Medicare card and any recent bills.

Recurring Bills: Recent bills and contact information about your mortgage payments or rent, utilities, car lease or loan and life insurance policies. You should do the same for regular bills and for subscriptions, memberships.

Insurance Contacts: A list of all insurance agents, policy numbers and the agent’s contact information.

Investment Information: Your financial adviser’s contact information and account numbers.

Financial and Legal Information: Contact information for your estate planning attorney and your CPA. I t should include where your prior year’s tax records can be found. Make a copy of the front and back of your credit and bank cards. Include recent credit card bills and note when payments are generally due.

Pet Care: Contact info for the vet, any medication information and info for a trusted friend who can care for a pet on a short-term basis. A pet trust, if you have one.

Personal Lists: Who should be notified in the event of a serious illness or death? A list of names, phone numbers and email addresses will be invaluable.

A personal estate planning binder can be a great relief for children or friends, who are probably still in shock, and it gives them the ability to have the information they need right at their fingertips, without having to dig through files or drawers of paper. It’s a gift to those you love.

Learn more about probate and the duties of an executor at our website.

Reference: Considerable (April 19, 2019) “This is the most helpful thing you can do for the people who love you”

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Does Your Estate Planning Include Your Online Account Passwords?

Your estate plan should include a way to access your passwords
Your estate plan should include a way to access your passwords.

With most bank customers receiving financial statements electronically instead of on paper, there are some actions you need to take to be sure your online accounts are incorporated into your estate planning.

Kiplinger’s recent story, Your Estate Plan Isn’t Complete Without Fixing the Password Problem,” says that having online access to investments is a great convenience for us. We can monitor bank balances, conduct stock trades, transfer funds and many other services that not long ago required the help of another person.

The bad thing about these advancements, is that they can make for a very difficult situation for a surviving spouse, the executor of your estate, or the successor trustee of your living trust,  attempting to determine where the assets of a deceased person are held.

This was in the news recently, when the founder and CEO of a cryptocurrency exchange died unexpectedly. Gerry Cotten didn’t share the password to the exchange’s cold storage locker—leaving $190 million in cryptocurrency belonging to his clients totally inaccessible. Investors may never see their funds again.

You can see how important it is that your estate plan provides a way for someone to access your online data, if you become incapacitated or die. This is also true for your other digital assets such as email and social media accounts. It can be a heart breaking situation for a family who wants to access photos and other online memories left behind by a deceased loved one if they are unable to do so because they don’t know the passwords.

The easiest, but least secure, answer is to just give your passwords to a trusted family member or the person you have appointed as executor of your estate or successor trustee of your living trust. Remember, they’ll need the passwords to access your online accounts. They’ll also need a password to access your email, where electronic financial statements are sent.

Another option is to write down and place all passwords in a safe deposit box. But you’ll need to let your agent under a power of attorney, the executor of your estate, or the successor trustee of your living trust, know that the passwords are in your safety deposit box so that they may take steps to access them in the event you are deceased or incapacitated.

But the problem with storing your passwords in a safety deposit box is that it requires diligence to keep the password list updated.

Another option to consider is a password manager, which is an app that keeps track of all your passwords across all your devices. With a password manager, you, or anyone who needs to have access to your passwords, will only need to know one password that, when used, will give access to all your other passwords. That one password may be kept in a safety deposit box, a safe at your home, a locked file drawer, or any other secure location. You should share the password, or the location of the password, with the trusted people who will handle your affairs if you should become incapacitated and after you die.

Finally, your estate planning documents should include provisions that authorize your agent under a power of attorney, the executor of your estate, or the successor trustee of your living trust, to access and manage your social media and online accounts.

Reference: Kiplinger (April 19, 2019) “Your Estate Plan Isn’t Complete Without Fixing the Password Problem”

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