Clients often express relief after finalizing their estate planning documents. However, even after all your documents are signed, there are still further steps that you should take to ensure that your affairs are in the best possible order.
- Store your Documents in a Safe Place. Whether you retained your original estate planning documents or copies of the documents, be sure to store what you have in a safe place! With the permission of the client, many law offices, including mine, keep the original Last Will and Testament, any original Trust documents, and original Financial Powers of Attorney for safekeeping, usually in a safety deposit box or bank vault, and the client receives a copy of the documents. Other times, the client elects to retain their original documents. In either case, a client should store their estate planning documents, whether they have an original or a copy, in a safe and secure location. In addition, the client should inform a trusted person where the documents are being kept so that they can be accessed when they are needed. If you have estate planning documents, but no one can find them, your estate planning efforts are fruitless.
- Talk to your Fiduciaries. When naming someone to be a fiduciary, such as an Executor of a Will, a Trustee of a Trust, the Guardian of a minor, or as an Agent through a Power of Attorney, it is important to let the person or persons named know that they have been nominated in such a capacity. Many people opt to have this conversation with the potential fiduciary before actually making the designation, but whether this was previously discussed or not, it is important that the fiduciary is aware of their potential role in your estate plan so that they can plan accordingly. Also, it is important to convey your intentions to the fiduciary so that they can carry out your plan in a manner that best meets your expectations.
- Distribute your Documents to Trusted Contacts. Depending on your comfort level, you may want to consider distributing copies of your documents to certain trusted individuals. For example, it is wise to provide your physician’s office with copies of your health care directives so that this information is accessible in the event of your hospitalization or a medical emergency. For other documents, such as your Last Will and Testament, any Trust Instruments, or Financial Powers of Attorney, only distribute copies of these documents to a trusted person if you are comfortable doing so.
- Make Lists for your Executor. Being a fiduciary, especially an executor, trustee, or financial power of attorney, is not an easy task. However, by making these three lists, you will be providing your fiduciary with the resources to effectively and efficiently manage your affairs.
- List of Assets & Their Location. Keep a list of the assets that you own. This will serve as the framework for an executor, trustee, or financial power of attorney of the assets that will need to be managed. If possible, include information for where each asset is held and any identifiers, such as account numbers, associated with the asset.
- List of Passwords. I know from my own experience that this is not an easy feat. When trying to create my own list of passwords, I was surprised at how many accounts, especially online accounts, I have in my name. This includes accounts for email, professional, medical/health, social media, shopping, education, bank/financial, expenses, utilities, entertainment, children, pets, and other purposes, to name a few. And of course, all of these accounts have associated user names, email addresses, and passwords. While creating a list of passwords may be a tedious task, by making this information accessible to your fiduciaries in the event of your incapacitation or death, you will enable them to promptly attend to your affairs.
- List of Contacts. Does your fiduciary know who to contact in case something happens to you? By making a list of the names, addresses, phone numbers, and email information of important contacts, you are providing your fiduciary with a valuable resource to efficiently manage your affairs. Individuals that you should consider adding to this list include close family members, fiduciaries and beneficiaries named in your estate planning documents, doctors, attorneys (especially your estate planning attorney), financial advisors, and accountants.
- Update your Beneficiary Designations. While your Last Will and Testament governs the disposition of certain “probate” assets, some assets, deemed as “nonprobate” assets, will pass according to their beneficiary designations. This is true for certain retirement accounts, investment accounts, and life insurance policies where beneficiary designations have been made. Be sure to review these designations regularly to ensure that they meet your intent. If you have a Trust in place, you should work with your attorney to ensure that your assets are properly funded to your Trust.
- Perform Periodic Reviews. Even after you complete the above steps and get your affairs in tip-top shape, it is important that you review your estate planning documents on a regular basis. Any life-changing event, such as a marriage, birth of a child, divorce, disability, or death should trigger a review of your estate plan. In the absence of such an event, you should still consider reviewing your documents every few years to ensure that they still meet your current intent. If after reviewing your estate plan you have questions or concerns, you should schedule an appointment with your estate planning attorney to discuss your case and to make any necessary modifications. Be sure to always seek legal advice before marking up or disposing of your current documents so that you are aware of the legal ramifications of your actions!
*This information is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. If you are seeking legal advice, you should contact an attorney. This information is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship. *