Death is coming and it’s grim but you have to prepare
Mr T’s parents died six years ago.
They made him executor.
The estate still isn’t settled.
Part of it is – and Mr T will admit this – procrastination.
But a lot of it is because his parents left a mess and it takes a long time to clean up an estate that’s been left in disarray.
I beg all of you to get your affairs in order. You are going to die. Either you take care of things or your heirs are stuck doing it for you – and it’s a jerk thing to do to leave all that work for someone else.
No, I don’t care if your parents did it to you. That doesn’t mean you should do it to your kids.
(Not that anyone reading this would be like that, but I have seen such sentiments expressed in other places. “Why should I bother? I was stuck dealing with my parents’ mess. My kids will have to deal with mine.” Don’t be that person. I know you’re not.)
My mom and I have spent hours going through her records and files. I have met with her financial advisor. I have her passwords. I have current copies of her will and long-term care policy and a key to her safe deposit box. I know where she wants to be buried and have her permission to have her cremated so it’s easier to get her remains from Colorado, where she lives, to Wisconsin, where the cemetery is. (My dad is already buried in the cemetery in their hometown and she will be next to him.)
When Mr T’s parents died, he had to hunt down records. He didn’t know if they had a safe deposit box. They had not updated their will to account for the special needs of one of their grandchildren.
Here are things you should do to make life easier for your kids (or for your spouse – Mr T’s parents died within six weeks of each other, so it was a bit of a special case) or for whomever settles your estate:
- Have a will. I know. It seems so obvious. But there are people with minor children who do not have a will. Do you really want the courts deciding where your kids go?
- And of course it should go without saying that if you have minor children, you have life insurance. Right? Right? I am preaching to the choir here?
- Medical and financial powers of attorney. Designate them.
- Living will. What do you want done and not done medically? Please do not put this decision on your children. Please.
- Give a copy of the will to your executor. (Better yet, designate a lawyer as your executor – being an executor is a royal pain in the neck and why would you dump that on your kids?)
- Have clearly marked files with all your financial information: mortgage, deed, bills, bank accounts, car titles, safe deposit boxes. The car title does not – and I cannot say this loudly enough – belong in a manila folder on the top shelf of the guest room closet.
- A list of accounts and passwords. What are the passwords to your online accounts? Social security numbers?
- If you are married, make sure your spouse is the co-owner of everything with you. Make sure your spouse is the beneficiary of your IRA and 401k.
- What’s the plan for your pets? No, it’s not an option for your kids to take them. Figure out where your pets should go and put it in writing so your executor knows. Mr T spent months trying to re-home his parents’ cats.
- It would be a huge kindness for your to make your wishes known with respect to your remains. Burial? Cremation? The Body Farm? Put it in writing and – yeah, I know this is going way out there – make the arrangements. Buy the plot. Decide what you want on the headstone. Pre-pay the funeral home. It’s awful enough to deal with the death of a loved one, but having to figure out and arrange a funeral on top of that? Give that gift to your spouse/children/whoever.
- Don’t make promises to your kids that you’re not going to keep. Don’t write a letter to one kid promising a certain amount of money and then not put it in the will. Don’t suggest to another kid – the executor – that maybe you should let him decide how the money is divided between him and his two siblings. That is, unless you want to be sure that your children hate each other forever.
- Clean your house. Throw away the junk you don’t use. If you have moved to Florida, take your winter clothes to Goodwill. You don’t need a heavy winter coat anymore.
- Keep your bills current. Don’t keep a box with eight years’ worth of Medicare EOBs mixed with regular and junk mail. Don’t force your executor to go through all those papers looking for unpaid bills. The estate cannot be closed until all the bills are paid.
As you might guess, Mr T and I have learned all these rules through experience.
We have also learned these important things through experience:
- If you have any nekkid photos or equipment, please figure out how to have someone who is not your child get rid of them. Your kids do not want to see you – nekkid.
- If you disinherit someone, it’s considered tacky to make that person the executor. Just. Saying.
- Again. Nobody wants to see your home porn. Especially not your kids.
- If you are one of the heirs and tell the executor that you were promised some special yet unable to be defined jewelry and the executor tears the house apart looking for it and finally just sends you all the jewelry in the house, it’s probably not good form to imply that the executor is keeping the Good Jewelry for himself and you know this because you took the jewelry he sent you to an appraiser, who told you it was all costume jewelry.
- Again as an heir – expecting the estate to reimburse you in cash for the frequent flier miles you used to attend the funeral is a little bit extra.
- NOBODY WANTS TO SEE YOUR NEKKID PHOTOS MAKE A PLAN DAMMIT.