One Last Thing

Richard Quinn

ONLY ABOUT 40% of Americans have a will, including just 58% of those ages 53 to 71. The good news is, among those of us 72 and above, the percentage is much higher—81%.

Putting in place a will, trust documents, powers of attorney and so on is no easy task. I’ve been through the process twice and it’s not fun, mostly because a good attorney will ask a lot of uncomfortable questions you’d probably rather not think about—like, do you want to designate someone to pull the plug, or which of your children should be executor, or should you pick someone else entirely?

And then there’s the lawyer’s prodding to be very specific about who gets what, when and how—because you don’t want your children fighting about it. I have a beach house that I hope will stay in the family. But what if one of my kids wants no part of it? What if one child wants his or her share in cash right away or perhaps two years after I’m gone? What if they can’t afford to maintain the place? It took some serious discussions with my attorney to figure it all out.

Even after you’ve dealt with all the formal legal documents, there’s still the nitty-gritty practical stuff—which you might include in a letter offering final instructions (and, yes, I do mean final). It’s a document all members of your family should know exists, as well as where to find it. They might even review it ahead of time, so there’s no confusion. Many of these steps should be handled by the executor—and may require a death certificate. Here are 15 items in my final instructions:

  1. A list of the credit cards that need to be cancelled—but before you do so, here are all the businesses that automatically charge each card each month.
  2. Details of my bank accounts and the businesses that auto-deduct from each account each month.
  3. Where my investments are held. In my letter, I‘ve attached screenshots of each account with all the contact information.
  4. The beneficiaries on my 401(k) plan, plus who to contact to make the claim.
  5. Before you touch the IRAs or 401(k) plan, contact a tax advisor about the best way to minimize taxes.
  6. My investments are designed to provide additional regular income to Mom. Before you go and change stuff, make sure her ongoing income is adequate.
  7. My pension provides a survivor annuity for Mom. I’ve included the number to call to get payments started.
  8. Notify Social Security immediately. That way, you won’t end up owing money, plus you can get Mom’s survivor benefits started.
  9. Details of my two life insurance policies, as well as contact information for the insurance companies.
  10. Location of the safe deposit box, plus where to find the key.
  11. Where to find my will and trust.
  12. Details of a loan to a family member. This sum should be deducted from his share of the estate.
  13. I promised the old grandfather clock to a family member. Make sure that happens—and no fighting about it.
  14. A list of subscriptions and memberships to cancel.
  15. I want to be cremated. These truly are final instructions.

This is just a sampling. My actual instructions are more detailed. Remember, the idea is to help your family deal with all this stuff. Got a pen and paper? Start writing.

Richard Quinn blogs at Before retiring in 2010, Dick was a compensation and benefits executive. His previous articles include Over CoffeeGet the PointPoor Judgment and How to Blow It. Follow Dick on Twitter @QuinnsComments.

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