For the first time since having children, I did not go Trick-or-Treating this year. It’s amazing how fast certain phases of our lives pass by. In my extra time on Halloween, I began to read about the Day of the Dead that falls at roughly the same time on the calendar. As National Geographic identifies it, the holiday, which is celebrated mostly in Mexico on November 1st and 2nd, is like a family reunion—except dead ancestors are the guests of honor. Day of the Dead is a joyful time that helps people remember the deceased and celebrate their memory.
My research prompted me to think about the memory or legacy I will leave behind. In some cases, for those left behind, that memory can be tarnished if we leave them with a mess to handle. I often say that being an executor can be one of the worst positions you will ever hold, but it doesn’t have to be that way. With proper planning and organization, you can allow your friends and family to celebrate your memory instead of stressing out trying to find misplaced paperwork to fulfill your wishes.
We’ve recently had a couple of clients pass away. One was a long-time client that had all their wishes well documented through named beneficiaries and a copy of their will easily located in our electronic vault. The other was a brand-new conversion to our process, and their information was much less clear. Unfortunately, we didn’t get an opportunity to help them clean up the documents before the passing. Without proper estate planning, an individual’s family may face various issues, both financial and emotional. Here are some potential problems that can arise:
Taxes: Without a will or trust, assets may not be distributed in the most tax-efficient or cost-effective manner. This could result in unnecessary expenses for the estate and its beneficiaries. Proper estate planning can help minimize tax liabilities and an overall depleting of the value of the estate.
Intestate Laws: If someone passes away without a will (intestate), the distribution of their assets will be governed by the intestacy laws of their jurisdiction. This may not align with their wishes, and it can lead to complications and disputes among family members.
Probate: Without a will or other estate planning documents, the estate may need to go through the probate process, which can be time-consuming and expensive. Probate can also be a public process, potentially exposing family matters to public scrutiny.
Minor Children: Parents who haven’t designated guardians for their minor children in a will may leave their children at risk of being placed under the care of someone the parents wouldn’t have chosen.
Family Disputes: When there is no clear plan in place, family members may argue over the distribution of assets, leading to strained relationships and even legal battles.
Healthcare Decisions: Without a healthcare directive or power of attorney for healthcare, loved ones may struggle to make medical decisions on behalf of an incapacitated family member.
Charitable Intentions: Individuals who wish to leave assets to charities may find that without proper planning, these intentions are not carried out as desired.
Privacy: Probate proceedings are generally a matter of public record. Without proper estate planning, the details of one’s estate and its distribution become accessible to the public.
To avoid these issues, we encourage you to consult with us as financial professionals to assist in the creation of a comprehensive estate plan that reflects your wishes and avoids the pitfalls outlined above. If done correctly, your family will benefit from these simple steps you cared enough to take for them and allow them to celebrate your life and the legacy you left behind.