Hope for the Best, Prepare for the Worst
by Jane Deacon B.A., CFP
We hoped for the best but when it became apparent that the best was not to be, my friend prepared for the worst. She was organized and thorough. And when she passed away, my duty as her estate trustee was made easier by her diligent preparations. The framework of her estate plan consisted of the following, all equally important.
I knew I was to be the estate trustee; it was decided long ago. My responsibilities were clear; I knew what had to be done. Knowing in advance also gave us the opportunity to talk openly about what was to be.
We had met with a funeral director that she knew and liked. During the visit, her wishes were made clear. The professional advice of the funeral director helped me with all the other decisions. Funerals often lead us to think about our own mortality. Many people who attended the funeral have told me that, for the first time, they are talking with their spouse and family about what arrangements they might make. Some are even preplanning their funeral.
My friend had updated her will and together we reviewed its contents. Her beneficiary had been present when the lawyer drafted the new will. There had been time for questions, for clarification. There were no surprises later. A will should be reviewed at least once every three years to ensure it has not been affected by changes in one’s personal situation.
I knew where the important papers were located and was delighted when I actually sorted through them. My friend kept excellent records!! An expandable folder contained the files for every calendar year. They were organized in the following categories: bank accounts, investments, life insurance, pension, real estate, car purchase and repairs, household bills, charitable receipts, house and car insurance and, of course, income taxes. These folders contained sections holding all the information that I needed to settle her estate. There was even a folder for the warrantees and information booklets that come with the purchase of new appliances, a furnace etc. Keeping good records is a simple estate-planning tip that will save a family or estate trustee a lot of time and frustration.
Invaluable information to me was knowing who to contact at the bank where my friend had worked. They arranged for transfers to the estate account and put me in touch with head office departments that looked after life insurance and pension details. Knowing where to find the safety deposit key was useful too!
I am still involved with the estate matters and will be for some time. My experience has taught me how important it is to have an estate plan; to organize personal records and possessions; and to ensure that my estate trustee finds my affairs in good order as were my friend’s. Life is fragile. You never know when death or disability will strike, so hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.