When parents tell their adult children, “It’s all taken care of,” regarding their end-of-life arrangements, what do they mean? Assuming they’ve worked with an AAEPA-affiliated estate planning attorney, of course they’ll have a will, a trust, and advance medical directives in place, with health care and financial power of attorney designees and back-up designees.
These elements, while vital, still fall short of taking care of everything. Consider these important often-overlooked aspects:
Funeral Plans and Costs
Parents may have put their funeral wishes on file with a funeral home, and even pre-funded their own funerals in an irrevocable funeral trust to protect the funds in case they need to access Medicaid. However, funeral home funds do not cover everything.
For burial or a cremation niche, cemetery costs are separate. These costs include the burial plot or niche space, opening and closing the grave, a liner or vault for burial, and memorial marker. This can add several thousand dollars to funeral plans. Other costs not under the funeral home’s control include obituaries, motorcycle escorts for processions, and out-of-pocket costs for a reception. Access to additional funds will help insure “It’s all taken care of.”
Certified death certificates are needed to claim Social Security and life insurance death benefits, to access pensions, bank accounts, and investments (IRAs, stocks, bonds, 401-K, Treasury bills, etc.), and to sell property such as real estate holdings, automobiles, and boats. The more complicated the estate, the more copies of the death certificate are needed.
When ordered while making funeral arrangements, death certificates are relatively inexpensive. Reordering may take a long time and often costs more, so parents should make sure to order plenty while making pre-need arrangements with a funeral home.
A Master File of Documents
The many threads of a person’s life can be scattered all over the house. To be truly organized and “taken care of,” a Master File of documents is vital. Some people will set up a folder in a file cabinet, a designated drawer or box of information, or a binder with multiple sections.
In addition to estate planning documents, this Master File includes information about bank accounts, brokerage accounts, investment accounts, life insurance policies, beneficiary designations, deeds for real estate properties, automobiles and boats, stock and bond certificates, and monthly bills. For business owners, heirs will need the Corporate, LLC, or Partnership paperwork, contracts, loans, leases, and business insurance information.
The world is going increasingly digital. Photos, music, and videos may be housed on computers and smart phones of the deceased. In addition to an estate executor, many people will need a digital executor who understands computers and online accounts.
Managing digital assets also means addressing social media and the wide range of online accounts people set up. Heirs need to be able to access computers or other electronic devices to shut down online accounts. A Master File of user names and passwords is vital. It can be kept Old School fashion on a paper spreadsheet in one’s Master File or in a secure online password vault with one master password.
Providing for Pets
If parents have pets, have they made arrangements for the continued care of the animal after they’re gone? Most AAEPA estate planning attorneys will inquire about pets and create a pet trust as part of the estate planning process. This requires identifying primary, secondary and even tertiary pet caregivers and providing funding for the animal’s care.
What else would you recommend including in the list of overlooked items when parents say “It’s all taken care of”? Add your insights in the comment box below!
Gail Rubin, CT, is a death educator Certified in Thanatology: Death, Dying and Bereavement and a Certified Funeral Celebrant. Her newest book is Hail and Farewell: Cremation Ceremonies, Templates and Tips, a follow-up to her award-winning book A Good Goodbye: Funeral Planning for Those Who Don’t Plan to Die. She “knocked ‘em dead” at TEDxABQ with her talk on pre-planning for end-of-life issues. She is a regular contributor to the AAEPA blog. Download a free planning form from her website, http://www.AGoodGoodbye.com.
Academy Guest Blogger
American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys, Inc.
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Phone: (800) 846-1555