I embrace New Year’s Resolutions with fervor. Every late December I create lists of new and improved goals that require me to completely change and redesign my life. Then, about 2 weeks into January, I realize I reached too far (zero sugar and daily exercise goals I’m looking at you) and step right back into my life as it’s always been. This year, I’m trying something different. I’m focusing on a few minor changes that should be easier to make.
In the spirit of small steps, I’m recommending five small steps everyone can take to make life easier for their loved ones should they become incapacitated and after their death.
- Tell a trusted friend or family member where you keep your estate planning and other important documents. The other important documents I am thinking about here include documents like birth certificates, marriage licenses, social security cards, life insurance policies, property deeds and car titles. They will need to be found quickly and easily should you become incapacitated and after your death.
If you don’t have an estate plan, although not a small step, you should consider making that one of your top New Year’s resolutions.
- Consolidate your finances if possible. If you have multiple checking and savings accounts at various institutions, several 401(k)s at former employers, and investment accounts at a number of brokerage houses, close the ones that you like the least and move your assets to the ones you like the best. Of course, with 401(k)’s and IRA’s, make sure you’re following the rollover rules so you don’t accidentally cause a taxable event. It’s much easier for your loved ones to manage things on your behalf or wind up your finances when they are dealing with fewer institutions.
- Confirm that your assets have updated beneficiary designations or are held by your trust if you have one. For example, unless held by your trust, your bank accounts should all have a designated POD (“pay on death”) beneficiary. When you die, the account will go to the person or trust you designated. Investment accounts, life insurance and annuities should all have beneficiaries designated, and if you haven’t reviewed those designations in several years, take a moment to confirm that the person you designated is still the person you want to be designated. Automobiles can have TOD (“transfer on death”) provisions added to the title. In many states, even real property, such as a house, can have what is essentially a beneficiary designation through the recording of a beneficiary deed.
- Make a list of your assets and liabilities. Keeping a list of your assets and liabilities with your estate planning documents and other important papers also makes it easy for your loved ones to manage things. Trying to piece together someone’s accounts can be tedious and time-consuming, and there’s a risk that something goes undiscovered.
- Make a list of your digital accounts, including social media. I also recommend including passwords – but on paper or in an encrypted manner. Digital accounts can be difficult to manage if someone becomes incapacitated and after their death. Some accounts may have intrinsic value, like airline miles or crypto accounts. Others may have sentimental value, like all of the photos on your phone or on your Facebook account.
Taking these small steps will make life much easier for your loved ones should you become incapacitated and on your death.
This blog post is for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Call a dedicated estate planning attorney to help you and your loved ones plan for peace of mind with an estate plan appropriate for you. Contact our St. Louis office at 314-303-3218 if you’d like assistance with updating or developing a comprehensive estate or elder law plan.
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Written December 29, 2023 by Stephanie Martinez