Many people think they are prepared for death and that it won’t be a burden on others. However, they often fail to anticipate some complexities. Having legal documents in place is just the beginning of what heirs need to deal with.
Being in the financial industry, we are accustomed to settling estates, funding trusts, activating trustees, liquidating assets to pay inheritance taxes, having beneficiary K-s created, filing administrative taxes and much more. Most people have a tough enough time dealing with the grieving, let alone the administrative items associated with a death. Therefore, here are some items you may want to consider and discuss with your family.
Your named trustee is responsible for taking over your duties when you are unable, incapable, unwilling or deceased. This can be a daunting responsibility requiring both skill and time. What took you a lifetime to accumulate will now be reevaluated as to what to keep, what to liquidate, how to split, etc.
For even the smallest estates, this process usually takes several months to complete. It is common for it to take years to settle larger estates. Thus, it is important for you to ensure your designated trustee is able to dedicate the time necessary to properly manage your affairs. Do they have the skills to deal with the complexities and will they be able to get along, be fair and communicate with the other heirs? (For related reading, see: How to Identify a Good Trustee.)
While the Baby Boomer generation tends to be open in their discussions, the previous generation tends to be rather tight-lipped regarding personal items (burial desires, finances, etc.). Make sure your individual wishes are clearly known and easy to find.
Nowadays, many people have their wealth held in trust, and that document usually has a schedule of assets in the back. This schedule helps ease the distribution of assets to heirs, so long as the schedule is not blank or outdated, which is often the case. Consequently, what often creates a mess within the family is the fight over the personal items.
Have an easy-to-find list that clearly outlines who gets what. Usually heirlooms, antiques and jewelry are the items that create the greatest family rifts. What may come as a surprise is that the value of the items may not be the biggest reason for an argument. Make sure you give a copy of your desires to your attorney. Some people also like to share it with their children (although that can create a lot of anxiety). (For related reading, see: Letter of Instruction—Don't Leave Life Without It.)
Hard to Discover Items
Are there contracts, royalty agreements, deferred compensation plans, partnerships, obligations, loans and the like that have complexities that need to be dealt with? Remember, what you may know firsthand is something that others have to figure out. Are there nuances and recommendations that people should consider?
For people with business interests (especially real estate), are there special considerations for the trustee to take into account? While you don’t want to tie their hands, you may wish to offer words of wisdom. For example, you might want to point out that some assets are more valuable than others (e.g., you know that a specific developer needs your parcel for a master plan).
We highly recommend that you create a balance sheet that outlines all your assets and liabilities annually and that your trustee knows where to find it. Not only does this help to provide guidance but it also can help you make sure you are maximizing the intended results of your wealth.
Over a lifetime, we all make thousands of financial decisions that ultimately impact what we have at the end. Whether it is a spouse, friend, family member or advisor, people will need to make many new decisions on your behalf when you are no longer able to do so. Some decisions will be by choice and others by force (e.g., taxes, trust instructions, estate law, etc.).
Always keep in mind that what makes sense to you may not be viewed or understood the same way by others. Spending a little time supplementing your estate plans with an explanation/outline of your balance sheet and providing written instructions for other bequests can go a long way in helping to provide clarity and peace of mind for those left behind.
(For more from this author, see: Continue to Rent or Time to Buy a Home?)
Disclaimer: Mission Wealth is a registered investment advisor.