In the practice of estate planning, I normally hear stories about how long a probate case took to complete. However, sometimes I hear about how easy a probate was to complete. Where things went smoothly, I ask why it was the case. The response is usually the same: “Everything was already organized.” Organizing your estate can save your children hours (and even days) worth of work after you have passed.
Here is a question for you. How well do you know where you information is located? Information like bank accounts, life insurance policies, important documents, passwords to online accounts, etc. You may be fairly familiar with that information. And maybe you might need to brush up a little on where you have things stored. Let me twist the question slightly. How well do you know where this information is located for your parents? Do I have your attention? Trying to piece together a puzzle when all the puzzle pieces are hidden is a nightmare. Maybe you were appointed to be a personal representative of your parent’s estate. If not, don’t feel bad. It isn’t a job that most people are trying to get. For the person that will be your personal representative, let’s figure out how to make their future life easier.
What can you do to get things organized and make the life of your personal representative easier? Here is a starting checklist of some things you can do now.
1. Fill out a personal information sheet and store it with your vital documents.
Who better to hunt down your information than yourself? Need to know what information would be helpful for your personal representative? Let us help you out. We created a form that you can download for free from our website. Using our experience, we know the information the personal representatives are likely to need. It will take some work to complete and keep updated. You will find out that you will probably thank yourself in the future when you need that one piece of information.
2. Learn about estate planning.
You don’t need to be an expert in estate planning for something that you won’t use much in your life. Learning something about estate planning will help you make the right decisions and avoid many of the traps. There is a lot of misinformation out there regarding estate planning. Many will offer advice that “worked” for them. Unfortunately, in estate planning, you don’t know if it actually works until after you are gone. Where do you go to get the correct information? Our legal blog contains years’ worth of our knowledge that we will share for free. There are many other estate planning blogs out there that contain sufficient information. Just make sure that they are written by attorneys that work in the estate planning.
What should you learn? Although estate planning can be complex, for most people it doesn’t have to be. There are some general topics that you should know about. These topics include: Wills, Trusts, Powers of Attorney, Living Wills, and Probate. These topics include the bulk majority of what you will need.
3. Talk to an Attorney
I know it is self-serving for me to give this advice. However, there is no substitute for talking an attorney who knows estate planning. Yes, it is cheaper to download a standard form from a website and fill it out. But do you want to chance it? A responsible attorney will guide you through creating your estate plan. He or she will help you understand the details and make sure your estate is done correctly.
At the Wootton Law Firm, we also give our clients an extra incentive. After you sign the documents, we are still your attorneys. If you have a question about your estate, we encourage your to ask — free of charge. Plus, we give you access to a client portal where we will store your documents (including the form mentioned in item #1 above), and send us messages whenever you want. This portal isn’t a substitute for storing your estate planning documents (i.e. will, powers of attorney, etc). But it is a convenient place to store a copy. You can also give us a signed authorization, allowing us to give your personal representative access to any documents stored on the portal to which you would like him or her to have access.
With the ability to ask us questions, you can make if you experience a life event, such a life event won’t affect your estate plan.
4. Talk to your parents, children, and siblings about their plans
Having a conversation can have a big impact on another person’s future. Encourage them to follow these same steps.