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Creating Your Estate Plan: What To Do Before I Die?

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Death is a scary thought. No one wants to think about dying. Having a well constructed Estate Plan will not only make things easier on those left behind but will give you peace of mind so you don’t have to think about (or dwell on) death.

Estate Planning Myths

There are a lot of misconceptions surrounding estate planning. Some are our own fears about anything related to our mortality. We may have heard those horror stories from other families that make us avoid this process for fear it will also happen to us. Then again, we may not think we have the money for an estate plan. Let’s dispel those myths before we get on to the truths about estate planning.

Estate planning: An easy guide on what to do before you die
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Estate Planning doesn’t mean you will die soon

“I don’t want to jinx it!”

Believe it or not, this is actually a real concern for many people. Some believe that just the mere mention of death will hurry your death. This isn’t true. What it will do is provide peace of mind to yourself and your loved ones. Know that you are making life a lot easier for those you leave behind.

Estate Planning just makes family greedy

I can’t speak for every family, but just because you have an estate plan, doesn’t mean you have to spread the news around around. Keep your Estate Plan in a safe place that only a few trusted people are able to access.

Estate Planning is just for old people

I know when you’re young (or even middle aged) you feel like you’ll have plenty of time but the earlier you begin your Estate Planning the better. It can be easily updated as your circumstances evolve but having the bones of your Estate Plan in place will save you a lot of time an energy and you can be assured that your Estate Plan has been created with a clear head, unclouded by strong emotions.

Estate Planning is only for wealthy people

Everyone needs to make an estate plan, even if you don’t think your estate “worthy” of a plan. Not only does an Estate Plan give instructions for the division of your assets but it also provides instructions for your wishes concerning incapacitation, your funeral wishes/plans, and your desired interment.

Estate Planning is expensive

It’s a misconception to think that estate planning is costly or requires professionals to put together. There are many self-prep forms that will guide you through the preparation of those legal documents required for a comprehensive Estate Plan.

Estate Planning: What Do I Need to Do Before I Die?

Now that we’ve hopefully shed some light on the myths around Estate planning, let’s dig into some of what goes into Estate Planning. You might be asking yourself, why is this important for me to know as a caregiver? Well, if your caree doesn’t currently have an Estate Plan, then you need to start one as soon as possible, preferably with the assistance of an elder law attorney. This will not only protect you from unjust accusations by disgruntled family members, but it also keeps you from having to make difficult end-of-life decisions on behalf of your caree. You will rest assured you followed your caree’s wishes to the very end.

If they do, then now is a great time to work on one for yourself. If there is one thing I’ve learned in the last ten years, no one ever expects to need a caregiver. If the time comes that you need one, be prepared so both you and your caregiver are aware of your wishes and can give you the best quality of life possible!

Quick Disclaimer

I’m not an attorney. These are just some tips and information I’ve gathered through my own experiences as a caregiver. Some of this may vary and may even be state specific. Use this as a starting place as you begin your own research.

Estate Planning: Get your paperwork in order

Don’t let this initial step daunt you and keep you from starting this process. Get what you can on paper and work on it as your life evolves. The benefit of getting these documents in order will save you money and time as it usually allows you to avoid the pain of probate.

If they are not done then after your death an estate account will have to be opened and any monies without a direct beneficiary will go into that account. That means if you say that your children (unless they are directly named) will divide your assets, your children will have to place those assets into an estate account until your estate has been probated. Probate requires an attorney to open the estate account. Your death will then be publicized and your passing listed in newspapers and the county courthouse to allow anyone to make a claim against your estate.

Your takeaway: Avoid probate! Get these documents together, notarized, and legal!

Transfer on Death

TOD is for homeowners. This immediately transfers the deed to your property to a designated beneficiary upon proof of your death. This is easily done by presenting an official death certificate and an official ID of your designee.

Some states also allow TOD or Right of Survivorship on investment and bank accounts as well which will allow monies in those accounts to go directly to a designee upon your death.

Living Will

This is the document presented to hospitals upon admittance that tells the doctors what to do in the event you can no longer speak for yourself or make those important healthcare decisions. This is crucial to keep your family from having to make those tough decisions on how much medical intervention you wish to have and when you would prefer these interventions cease.

Durable Power of Attorney

This crucial document designates a person to make legal decisions if you are no longer mentally competent to do so. Unfortunately, this is an often overlooked document and causes caregivers so many headaches. Without a DPOA, you run the risk of a court appointed guardian who may or may not have your best interest at heart.

Power of Attorney for Healthcare

Many people confuse this with DPOA, but this document is very different. With this, a designated person will be able to make healthcare decisions for their caree. This document is absolutely imperative for a caregiver to successfully advocate for their caree.

Last Will and Testament

This is the document that is most frequently pushed as an Estate Plan but it really is just a small part of it. The Last Will and Testament designates to whom all your personal properties and belongings will be given to in the event of your death.

Estate Planning: Gather documents

Now that you have prepared the important papers, it’s time to gather the documents needed to finalize your estate.

Bank Beneficiary

This is a very simple document that you get from your bank that allows your beneficiary to go to the bank with your death certificate and an ID to access your accounts.

Titles

Make sure you know the location of all property titles including automobiles, RVs, farm equipment, land ownership, etc.

Retirement

Know where all your retirement information is located and keep paperwork for your beneficiaries accessible.

Life Insurance

Have a copy of your policies and any pertinent collection information.

Estate Planning: Make a list

Documents are gathered and paperwork prepared, now you need to make a list:

  • Bank account numbers with bank contact information
  • Investment institutions with account numbers
  • Credit cards
  • Utility accounts

These are all places that will require a certificate of death to finalize your accounts.

  • Funeral Planning Declaration: allows one to say exactly one’s wishes as far as disposition of the body and the services.
  • Make a list of all banks and account numbers, all investment institutions with account numbers, lists of credit cards, utility accounts, etc. Leave clear instructions as to how and when these things are paid. Make sure heirs knows where life insurance policies are located.
  • Make 100% sure SOMEONE YOU TRUST knows your Apple ID, bank ID account logins and passwords!
  • Make sure you have titles for all vehicles, campers, boats, etc!
  • MOST IMPORTANTLY!!!! – Talk with those closest to you and make all your wishes KNOWN. Talk to those whom you’ve designated, as well as those close to you whom you did not designate. – Do this to explain why your decisions were made and to avoid any lingering questions or hurt feelings.

Estate Planning: Funeral Arrangements

Without a clear, legal plan for your funeral arrangements, most states will merely turn over these decisions to the next of kin. That means, no matter your relationship, you closest blood relative will make these final decisions for you unless you plan ahead.

Often we feel hesitant about making these plans and arrangements because of the sheer morbidity of planning for your own death, regardless of it’s inevitability. However, we also must consider the relief of making these plans and, other than minor changes we may choose to make throughout the years, never having to think about it again.

Estate Planning: Burial Plot

One of your first decisions regarding your funeral arrangements will be where you wish to be buried. Most families choose a cemetery plot. There are four types of cemetery plots:

  1. Single plot: this is the most common, reserved for a single casket.
  2. Companion plot: usually for married couples, the companion plot is either two side-by-side single plots or in crowded cemetery situations, a double plot where caskets are stacked one on top of the other.
  3. Family plot: the family plot is where a family purchases a section of the cemetery to be reserved for the family. You are quite literally purchasing a piece of the cemetery. Not all cemeteries offer this, but for large families, this is a great option.
  4. Plot for cremated remains: this is often a cheaper option where you are cremated but given a headstone and interred in a small burial plot following cremation.

Then, there is always the option to be cremated and the remains given to the family. If you wish, you may also leave instructions on how the remains will be kept; whether you wish your family to decide, interred in a place of memoriam, or scattered in a special location.

When considering burial options, you will want to be considerate of your family, your religious beliefs, cost, and location.

Estate Planning: Headstone

After deciding interment, you will next move to your headstone. If you’ve purchased a plot, you may also want to go ahead and add a headstone of course without the date of death.

If purchasing and setting out a headstone is not feasible, you may want to document your wishes including wording, size, and photos. If possible you’ll want to begin saving for the purchase.

Remember, burial planning is not morbid! It’s taking the responsibility of making these arrangements out of the hands of grieving family and allows your wishes planned with a clear mind to be carried out.

Estate Planning: People to get involved

Once you have all your paperwork prepared, gathered those important documents, made your list of pertinent information, and written down your funeral arrangements your Estate Plan is nearly there. Now, all you have left to do is notify the relevant people. Make sure you contact the people you’d like to be involved and ask them if they feel comfortable with the role you want them to play.

This is also a good time to have discussions on why exactly you’ve made the choices you’ve made so no one’s feelings are hurt and relationships will be maintained and preserved following your passing.

Estate Executive

This is the person that will make sure your wishes after death are followed. They will be responsible for informing institutions and individuals about your death, implementing the funeral plans, and seeing that the details in your will are settled.

Officiants

These are the people that will be involved in your funeral. You may want people to read your eulogy, say prayers, provide music, or read scripture or poetry.

Pallbearers

Pallbearers are the people you want honored as having an important role in your life. They can be literal pallbearers that carry your casket or urn in and out of the funeral location or honorary where they are listed on the memorial bulletin.

Estate Planning: What you should take away

Bottom line, estate planning is something everyone should do regardless of the “size” of the estate. It is not expensive and doesn’t have to be elaborate, but it is such a gift to your family and will allow them to grieve your passing without worrying about whether your wishes are being fulfilled or navigating the legal system. An estate plan insures a peaceful passing for everyone involved leaving loved ones with tender memories and a satisfaction of knowing your wishes have been fulfilled.

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