Communicate Clearly

By Jim Gianelli

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Hopefully you’ve followed the advice in our past articles … but you’re not done yet! Here are a few more tips vital to proper estate planning, and to ensuring that your survivors can easily honor your wishes.

Keep documents up to date. If it has been more than five years since you drafted your estate planning documents, make an appointment with an estate planning attorney to review your plan. Your personal circumstances or changes in the law may have occurred. Both should be reflected in your estate plan.

Get your children involved. Introduce the next generation, or your successor trustee, to your estate planning attorney. An appointment to review and update your documents is a perfect opportunity. Bring them to the meeting so they can get familiar with your documents and the attorney they will be working with when you pass away. Some attorneys offer video and teleconferencing, convenient for families who live far apart.

Prevent fights over possessions. When you pass away, statistics and attorneys’ experiences show that family members will fight most about who gets the personal property. These items not only carry the most sentimental value, but cannot be easily divided (i.e., the china set, paintings, jewelry, etc.) Be specific about who gets what. Prepare a list of personal belongings and spell out the intended recipient. It saves your successor trustee from the near-impossible task of sorting things out, and may prevent hard feelings.

Make your estate documents accessible. Make sure your successor trustee knows the location of all important paperwork, and how to access it. This includes estate planning documents, real estate and banking records, life insurance policies, and any outstanding liabilities. Keep original documents in a safety deposit box, with the successor trustee named as a joint owner.  Place all other information in one master file. Be sure to include your personal information: Full name, date of birth, address, telephone number, Social Security number, and any veteran’s information.

Communicate end-of-life decisions now. Creating a health-care directive conveys your end-of-life decisions if and when you are no longer able to. Let loved ones know your wishes now, so that when the time comes, everyone is on the same page.

In short, stress communication and cooperation while you are still here and able to be heard.

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