Preparing Your Estate: 10 Loose Ends To Tie Up Before You Die

by Cody Jones

Creating an estate plan can provide peace of mind for our clients because if all goes according to plan, their beneficiaries will be equipped and prepared to settle their estate according to their written wishes.  However, when our clients walk out the door of our office armed with their detailed plan, change doesn’t come overnight.  It takes some effort from our clients to make sure the plan is fully implemented and properly maintained.  These are a few of the unresolved or incomplete matters we often see, which can cause the plan to go awry. 

1.      Safe Deposit Boxes.  Your safe deposit box is subject to a box rental agreement and access to the box is limited upon your incapacity or death.  Review the box rental agreement.  If you have a revocable trust, make your trust a party to the box rental agreement.  Otherwise, you should coordinate with your financial institution to make sure someone you trust has authorization to access your safe deposit box upon your death or incapacity, which may require adding them as a joint or successor owner on the account.

2.      That “Small” Bank Account.  Many of our clients dismiss their assets of limited value, assuming they will not cause their survivors or caretakers any trouble, but many times it’s these small assets that require the most work after an owner’s death.  If you have a revocable trust, transfer the account ownership to your trust, ensuring the successor trustees will have easy access to these funds.  If you do not have a trust, consider adding a payable-on-death designation to the account to ensure the funds in the account are accessible by your survivors.  Otherwise, your survivors may need to pay an attorney to gain access to the account.  Such expense often exceeds the value of the account.  This issue is easily avoidable if you take the small step during your lifetime instead of leaving unfinished business which requires big steps after your death. If you opt to add a payable-on-death beneficiary designation, please make sure you update your beneficiary designation if a named beneficiary predeceases you. Otherwise, the funds in the account may not be allocated to the beneficiaries you prefer.

3.      Those Minimal Minerals.  Even if your mineral interests are not worth much now, they may be worth much more after your death. One of the most common triggers for probates and estate administrations are mineral interests that clients failed to either transfer to their revocable trust or otherwise provide for succession of ownership  by deed during their lifetimes.  A simple quitclaim deed during your lifetime can avoid significant cost after your death, a cost most of our clients intend to avoid with their estate plans.

4.      Boats, Trailers, Motorcycles, and Other Motorized Objects.  They have titles too.  If your name is the only name on the title at your death, the ownership is trapped in your name.  Barring a few exceptions, no one will have authority to sell this asset without being appointed by the court.  Once again, if you have a revocable trust, take the easy step to transfer the title to your trust now.  Otherwise, you might consider adding a co-owner to the asset to make sure the person you wish to receive each asset can easily assume ownership upon your death. 

5.      Bonds, Paper Bonds.  United States Savings Bonds are no longer issued as paper bonds, but many of our clients have old Series E Bonds or something similar.  More likely than not, these bonds do not have a beneficiary. If you have bonds in your name upon your death, these bonds will undoubtedly trigger an estate administration.  Please contact us so we can advise you on how to convert your paper bonds and update ownership during your lifetime. 

6.      The Future of Your Pets.  If you have pets, do you know what will happen to them upon your incapacity or death?  Have a conversation with your loved ones to make sure they know your wishes.  Make sure they have the knowledge and ability to assume caretaking responsibilities for your pets as you desire, and if not, direct them as needed.  The more they know, the more likely your wishes are fulfilled.

7.      Old Beneficiary Designations.  If your spouse or child predeceased you, please review your beneficiary designations on your retirement accounts and life insurance policies.  Oftentimes, the surviving spouse forgets to update these designations.  If your named beneficiary is not living upon your death, the proceeds of these assets will likely be payable to your estate, triggering a costly estate administration or probate.  Updating your beneficiary designations is an easy loose end to address. 

8.      Pesky Passwords, Codes and Keys.  Make sure your loved ones have access to your passwords, keys and access codes for your cell phone, email, social media, online billing, financial institutions, security systems, internet streaming services, and other similar accounts.  If you have a code for your safe, ensure someone other than yourself has access.  If you have multiple keys, make sure they are labeled as necessary.  If you do not want to give individuals access to this information during your lifetime, we will gladly keep this information in your client file for your heirs and successors, as needed.

9.      Trusted Advisors.  You know yourself and your assets better than anyone, and you know who you trust for advice for various purposes.  Consider making a list of these trusted advisors for your survivors so they do not need to reinvent the wheel.  Let them know who your CPA, financial advisors, attorneys, doctors, realtors, and other professional advisors are.  This information can be extremely helpful and cost-effective, particularly when your survivors live out of state.

10.  Blended Families.  Blended families often have different desires than what is provided for under state law. Please call us to make sure your estate plan fits your family situation.