BY JOE BRISBEN
My great uncle Butch Goldsmith used to say, “Never tell anyone where you catch your fish, where you keep your whiskey, or where you hide your money.”
Imagine the mess he left behind when he died. Butch was childless. His nearest living relative was his niece, my mother. Butch did not leave much of an estate, but he could have made life a lot easier for my mother if he had followed some straightforward guidelines.
1. Write a letter of instruction. The letter is to be opened and used by your representative after your death. It should describe in detail your wishes for funeral arrangements as well as the guests you would like invited.
Your letter of instruction should also spell out what you want done with your personal property: clothing, jewelry, keepsakes, artworks, furniture, and sporting goods.
2. Make a list of important people in your life and how to contact them. The list might include your personal advisors, closest friends, heirs, and most importantly those you named as beneficiaries of annuities, life insurance policies, and retirement accounts.
I have experienced a number of cases where the deceased named beneficiaries who were long-lost friends with sketchy, incomplete, or nonexistent information that made trying to reach them a nightmare.
3. Show your representative where and how you keep your important records. Your representative will need to pay your bills when acting with your power of attorney or as your executor/executrix.
This will be a big help to your representative for finding such necessary records as your bank account(s), investment account information, and tax returns.
While we are on the subject of records, your representative should also know where you keep such property information as deeds and notes. Also, don’t forget about vehicle and boat titles.
No one in their right mind would force their best friend to make an unnecessary trip to the Department of Motor Vehicles for that information or to generate new titles. They might not think of you so kindly after your passing.
4. If you have given someone property during your lifetime and filed a gift tax return, your representative should know about this gift and where to find that return.
5. Finally, if you have not reviewed your will in the last five years, read it carefully. If it no longer deals with your property in the manner you want, call your attorney and make an appointment.
If you are more than 50 years of age and do not have a will, shame on you. Get the job done as soon as possible. If your attorney has died or retired, talk to the people at his or her firm.
If you can’t find a successor there, consult a relative or your friendly neighborhood accountant or financial adviser. CPAs and financial advisors network with lawyers all the time, and they should be able to match your needs and personality with a capable practitioner.
In looking over what I have written, I may have sounded gruff. However, if you follow these suggestions, after your death your representative not be intimated by the probate process.
Your attorney and accountant should also be there to help and advise your representative. Their first responsibility will be to secure your property and do with it what you want.
If your representative knows where you keep your house and car keys, when the garbage needs to be taken out, how your pets are to be fed and cared for, and what should done about your garden, the task will be much less burdensome. It all depends on how much planning you do beforehand.
By the way, no one ever discovered where Uncle Butch caught fish or hid his whiskey. I think his heirs deserved to know.