Many people have not looked at the beneficiary designations on their Life Insurance, Retirement or Annuity Accounts for years. With most of these accounts, you were most likely prompted to designate a beneficiary when you first opened the account. People do not realize that any beneficiary designation made on these accounts will override their will, trust, or other estate planning documents executed. Too often, an ex-spouse is inadvertently left as a beneficiary or a later born child is omitted. Taking the extra step to add contingent beneficiaries to retirement accounts can even result in dramatic tax savings for your loved ones. A few minutes of work on your end can eliminate grief and consternation for your heirs after you pass.
So please, review all those designations to ensure they reflect your current wishes.
There is a statute in Maine that allows you to tell people who you want to get your “tangible personal property” (that’s a fancy word for “stuff”) with a simple list in writing. Tangible personal property includes furniture, jewelry, dishware, art, even cars and pets. The general rule of thumb is that if you can touch it, it’s tangible. Not included are cash, stocks, bank accounts, life insurance, real estate, etc. This list does not have to be witnessed or notarized or carry any of the formalities of a will, yet your Personal Representative/Family must legally respect those wishes as if it did. The advantage is you can give a grandchild or neighbor something special to remember you by. If you get mad at them or lose touch you can change the list at any time without having to re-do your will or see a lawyer. These lists can be invaluable road maps for your loved ones when you die. They can also prevent fights over hot-point items like wedding rings or family heirlooms. I recommend that you date and sign your list, especially if you use your computer to generate it. Keep the list where it can be easily found. You can have just a few items or you can map out the distribution of your whole house, that’s totally up to you.
All too often young families avoid or put off executing Wills and other estate planning documents because they don’t think they need them. Ironically, they are the very ones who do need estate planning. A Will allows you to name the Guardian of current and future-born children. Testamentary Guardianships are automatically issued by the probate court. There is no court process involved, so no family drama over who will take care of your children if both parents are gone. Moreover, your Will can set up a simple testamentary trust for minors to ensure that the money you pass to your children is protected until they are ready to inherit it. To ensure your loved ones have no worries, it is also essential to go through your beneficiary designations on insurance, retirement and other assets.
Attention – parents with grandchildren:
Estate planning gift certificates make great Christmas and Birthday gifts for our children!
Whether you have a will-based estate plan or trust-based one choosing the right person who will be in charge of your assets when you are gone is sometimes a difficult decision for people. Gone are the days when the oldest son is automatically chosen. I’ve seen too many family fights occur simply because the wrong person is serving in this position. You know your family and its particular politics best.
Blended families may want to utilize Co-Personal Representatives so that a child from each side is represented. In some situations it is necessary to go to a neutral third party, like a neighbor, sibling, or professional. Things to consider when choosing:
- Are they fair?
- Are they good communicators?
- Are they able to take criticism and not let it bother them?
Worry less about who is “local” and more about who you truly trust to get the job done. Always remember to have plenty of contingency planning in case someone you choose dies, gets sick, or just doesn’t want to do it.
Choose wisely and you will minimize family discord after you pass.
Does your neighbor or best friend complain to you that if you don’t have a trust you will regret it? Everyone has heard of the word, but few people truly understand the benefits and drawbacks of trusts, let alone what kind of trust they may have. The truth is that not everyone needs a trust. The answer depends on what state you are a resident of when you die, and other factors including whether you own real estate in more than one state.
Read this handout and you will know more about trusts than that pesky neighbor who thinks you are doing everything wrong…
Kathryn Bedell 1/31/2019