Nobody likes to consider their own mortality. As this blog has discussed previously, the majority of Baby Boomers do not have any type of advance directives concerning their end of life care, or medical care in the event of an emergency.
Even more of a concern is the overwhelming amount of paperwork that can be left behind from a person’s death, and this is a concern for more than just Boomers. Many people of all ages are unaware of what their survivors would be left with when they die.
Take a moment and think. This is not a fun hypothetical; no one likes to think about their death and what they will leave behind. Imagine you are in a car accident on your way home tonight, get rushed to the hospital, and are on life support. Imagine- and this is true for the majority of Americans- that you have not created any advance directives, and have never made a will.
Who is making the decision about continuing life support?
Are they making the decision that you would have made?
Now imagine they’ve ended life support, and you’ve died. Continue to ask yourself questions:
Was there enough money to cover my hospital stay?
Is there enough money to bury me?
Does my spouse know that I wanted to be cremated and buried next to the lake?
Will they remember not to have a religious service?
Will my jewelry and other nice things go to the people I want to have them?
Can my spouse access my retirement fund, bank accounts, and car title?
Does my spouse know how to contact my student loan holder?
These are just a few questions you make ask yourself. If you have so many questions that it seems overwhelming, how would it feel for those you leave behind?
People lead such complex financial lives, more than any previous generation. Homes, cars, stocks, retirement funds, commercial debt, student debt, greater options for burial planning- all part of the land of opportunity, but all part of what can easily become a labyrinth of forms that your loved ones must navigate.
The good news is you can make this easier on your loved ones. Take an afternoon and dedicate it to getting your personal business in order. Some things can be done on your own, while others may go smoother with professional assistance.
-Take inventory of your personal possessions. Who gets your jewelry, your antiques, even your shoes?
-Make a list of every website you log in to. Write down the site, your user ID, and your password. Some people recommend saving it to your hard drive, others suggest saving it onto a memory stick and storing it in your fireproof safe in your home.
-Be sure the code to your safe, or key if you have a strongbox instead, is somewhere that a spouse or child knows where it is and can easily access it.
-Inside the safe or strongbox you should have all of your end-of-life paperwork stored. The Wall Street Journal has this excellent guide for what papers may be needed, depending on your situation.
-Consider talking to your banker. Many accounts can be designated Payable on Death, meaning your survivors only need to present a death certificate for the bank to write a check. Using a will or trust to distribute money will be slower, as it must go through probate. However, using a will or trust may be a better option if you prefer your account be divided among more than one person.
-Discuss with a financial professional whether a trust would be appropriate for what you will be leaving to loved ones.
-Make sure you have created a will. One that you write yourself may hold up through probate, especially if properly witnessed and notarized, but discussing this with a lawyer is always a good idea. Often an attorney has helped people in similar situations, and can offer insight into how to best write your will to make it challenge-proof.
-Write or type a letter containing your wishes. What type of burial you prefer, where you wish to be buried, who you would like to speak at your funeral, anything that is important to you.
Remember that even when your life ends, it affects people. Make the transition as smooth as possible. It will allow your loved ones to remember you, instead of the hassle of sorting through what you leave.