We are all faced in life with the situation where family members pass away. In addition to the grieving due to the loss of those close to us, the process also leads to self reflection. Are we prepared for the emergencies created by the dreaded Ds ... Disability, Disease, Dementia , and Death. Having a comprehensive estate plan protects you, your loved ones, and your wealth from these speed bumps that can inevitably catch up with us. I want to share a real life situation, as we all need to hear these stories. We need to plan for ourselves, but we also need to help other loved ones plan as well.
Now I get to tell the story...
I have a client, we will call her Jane, who's mother passed away in July. Due to COVID she has reached exhaustion due to her work load, and from having had to take care of her ailing mother.
We begin the process of looking through the many accounts, policies, and other financial matters. I ask her for a copy of the will so I can help her understand how other assets not governed by existing beneficiary relationships will be processed. She hands me a neatly folded up little paper with an attractive blue cover. It says Codicil with a date on the cover. We begin to read and it does modify one of the paragraphs of a Will dated in 1995. It very concisely explains that Jane has been made executor and replaced other family members who are now deceased. "Great", I say... we need the rest of the Will. Jane indicates, with a slight look of concern.. thats it.
I explain that without the rest of the Will referenced here, the document would appear incomplete. For the probate court to review, it would need all the reference documents, or basically they will treat it as if she had no will. The look of concern now became a combination of terror and frustration. I said look, the attorney who prepared the Codicil would not have referenced a dated document that doesn't exist. Jane responded that, she went through the entirety of her mother's desk and all she found were the documents she had showed me. I indicated that she should remain calm and continue looking, as It is Always the Last Place You Look.
The next day at around 4PM, I got a call from Jane. There was now relief in her voice. "I found it... It was in the sock drawer". She was so relieved, as she could now proceed with an orderly probate process.
These type of situations are always tough. We are already filled with emotions of loss and grief, and if proper preparations were not made in an orderly fashion, it can turn that situation into more fear and frustration. This is especially true of a process like probate that always appears time consuming, mysterious, and problematic. Typically this is because family members do not have an orderly set of documents and do not understand what their roles and obligations are in the process.
I am going to share our process for how we help mitigate these circumstances.
1) Review your current estate plan, or begin to formulate one. This includes accounts like retirement, JT, and TOD, that are not typically designed to pass through probate.
2) Review your current actual plan documents. Are all of them in order? Are the complete? Are the organized in a leather bound binder and not in the sock drawer?
3) Do you have your in case of emergency book filled out?
4) Do you have these important documents scanned in for archiving. In many states, if originals are lost, destroyed, or damaged, the court may permit copies to be used. It will likely add more time to the process, but still avoid the problem of intestate (No Will).
5) Do your loved ones have access too, or know where these documents are? We provide many of our clients with a letter to mail to any potential beneficiaries. It basically states, that you have engaged in the planning process, and they are named as primary or contingent beneficiaries on many accounts. In the event of their untimely passing, they should contact us, and we can begin the process of coordinating services to process accounts and ease the transition.
These are always difficult times for families. As a Financial Professional, I feel it is our obligation to assist with the orderly transfer of family wealth. Most people in our industry are focused on how much money they make clients, but really great advisors are also focused on the lowering the cost, time and effort that it takes to transfer that hard earned wealth to the next generation.
If you or a family member are struggling with how to put this planning in place. Please feel free to reach out.