No one ever envisions a sudden death happening to them. Consequently, drafting up a will tends to be the furthest thing from the mind. However, if you are part of the family left behind, dealing with emotional loss is just the beginning of a long, difficult and challenging road ahead. I know this because I speak from experience.
A dear relative of mine passed away suddenly. Younger than me, he had never been married, left behind no children, and never created a will. His death created a whirlwind of emotions and responsibilities none of my family was prepared to deal with.
His small personal belongings were easily given away, but it took almost a year of court visits and attorney interventions before the estate was finally settled. Among his larger assets were a house in foreclosure, a laundry list of medical bills, three trucks, bank & savings accounts, and a retirement fund.
It did not have to happen this way. Nonetheless, it was a lesson learned for the rest of the family: death can happen at any moment. And the best gift you can leave behind for those you love is a will, with its additional gifts of a HIPAA form, DNR, Medical Power of Attorney, and all the necessary information about your business(es), such as who to contact, logins & passwords.
While all that information was gathered from my parents when they passed away, the circumstances were different. They were in their old age and we had time to prepare for their deaths. When not expecting death at our door, however, we think we are young, we think we have tomorrow to take care of details, we think it will not happen to us. Not always.
So, when should you prepare a will?
When you get married and/or have children?
When you have equity in a business?
When you buy a house?
When you have a retirement account?
When you are aware of your own imminent death?
When you have specifics about after-life accommodations?
The answer will never be that you do not need one. Since laws vary by state, I highly recommend an attorney be the one to finalize your will, along with any necessary documents should you become incapacitated or die. An unofficial may not hold up in court, and can ultimately cause greater distress to your loved ones. Take the time to dot your i’s and cross your t’s.
A will simply designates how your remaining estate is handled in the event of death, but these documents do not go into effect until you die. Should you become incapacitated and unable to be your own advocate, you will need documents that appoint someone you trust to oversee your care and estate, including your business.
The provided packet from my attorney included the following:
1. A Will
2. Directive to Physicians and Family or Surrogates
3. Declaration of Guardian in the Event of Later Incapacity
4. Medical Power of Attorney
5. Statutory Durable Power of Attorney
6. HIPAA Release
Along with these official documents, I have created an Estate Worksheet that lists all my financial accounts, life insurance policies, personal property, etc.
In my book, Matters Of The Heart, I include a Family Toolbox, which is a list of informational documents that will help your family in the advent of your passing and is available with the book to download online. I have used them for my own estate and hope by doing so, will make my estate closing easier.
I also address the necessity of family meetings to gather information for an aging loved one, which does happen to include everyone. Use a family meeting because “one person may remember something for the medical history form that no one else remembers. Everyone hears the same information, which, therefore, helps everyone be on the same page. During the initial family meeting would be a fantastic starting point to get everything, and everyone, organized.”
I currently have annual meetings with my family to review any changes to what has already been established. While it may sound a little morbid, since I still consider myself young and am not yet elderly, I have seen and experienced the deep heartache that can be caused by not having a will or your wishes communicated to those who love you.
Maybe you’re reading this and thinking, “I already have a will,” but is this will up to date? Have you included the HIPAA Release form? What about a complete list of necessary account logins and passwords? All changes in your business? Is everything organized in one place for easy access? Would any remaining family know where to access this information?
If you can leave behind one gift, let it be the gift of organization to those you love.