"Everybody wants to go to heaven," according to a classic blues song, "but nobody wants to die." Nor does anyone like to think about dying. And that must be why some people don't put much thought into estate planning, much the less in drawing a schematic for distributing one's earthly possessions to those you love the most.
But this is important. It's something you want to do diligently. It's something you want to get right.
Your heirs and the executor of your estate — the person you choose to oversee that your wishes are carried out — will remember you kindly for your clarity of purpose; it's good for all involved. Otherwise, you risk setting off a family feud. Resolving not to leave your property open to legal dispute, here are three key rules for further planning your estate:
Name Beneficiaries Correctly. Putting someone's name in your will may not be enough, of course. It's wise to name who gets what in documents filed with your insurer, annuity provider and retirement fund sponsor, usually for individual retirement accounts. To be clear, if you want your daughter to get your ABC Stock 500 fund, naming her in the will does no good. It must be on file with a custodian. Moreover, listing multiple beneficiaries of real estate often is an invitation to a quarrel. What if you give your home to your three children? Maybe one wants to keep it for old time's sake, and the other two want to unload it and pocket the money. Or perhaps they all want to sell but can't agree on a broker or a fair selling price. In the meantime, they would need to chip in to maintain the house, which can cause further disputes.
Keep Estate Plans Current. Years or decades may pass between when an estate plan is devised and your death. Lots can change. Like spouses. If you divorced and never updated your will afterward, your ex could end up inheriting your worldly possessions. And what about your nephew, who was so delightful as a kid but grew up to be someone you don't really want to help financially. What's more, the tax laws could have changed, and old plans may be totally out of sync with current rules. Reviewing your will annually makes sense.
Provide Vital Information. Another problem is not furnishing your executor and heirs with a thorough up-to-date list of accounts and how to get access to them. Account titles, user names, and passwords — along with security questions — must be stored. Encrypting and saving this information is best. Writing it down and storing it in a safe deposit box is next best. However, not everything should be stored digitally. Mortgage documents, the deed to your home, your last mortgage payment and paperwork on your car are best kept in a safety deposit box, which requires a key and a photo I.D. to access. So, remember to arrange access for your executor with the bank. In leaving an item of sentimental value, consider who among your heirs would most appreciate its significance. Your Facebook, Instagram and Amazon account can be managed from the grave using online services such as Mylennium. It's wise to have a master list with all user names and passwords for financial holdings. This can be in your safe deposit box or in a secure place in your home. Trouble is, keys tend to get lost. Encrypting it and storing it online or on secure media you keep in your home is better.
Nobody wants to die but if you want to go to heaven, making your final wishes easy on loved ones is a thoughtful final act to help get you there.
This article was written by a professional financial journalist for Forbes Financial Planning, Inc and is not intended as legal or investment advice.