“THE LEGAL CORNER”
By Sam A. Moak
ESTATE PLANNING TO DO LIST
The information in this column is not intended as legal advice but to provide a general understanding of the law. Any readers with a legal problem, including those whose questions are addressed here, should consult an attorney for advice on their particular circumstances.
Who has not heard a tale about relatives fighting over bank accounts, brothers and sisters having fist fights over a recipe box, siblings no longer speaking to one another, or loving relationships severed for good as estates are settled and assets distributed? You can help prevent these dramatic events in your own family by putting your financial affairs in order now.
First: Make a List
Write down all the numbers for your credit cards, bank accounts, passwords, retirement and investment accounts, life insurance policies, tax records, safe deposit boxes and real estate. Include the names and contact numbers for any attorney, accountant and financial experts you have used. Keep the list current and tell your executor where it is located.
Sit down with an attorney who focuses on estate planning. Create a Will or Trust that clearly specifies your wishes. Do you want your granddaughter to inherit your diamond wedding ring and your grandson to have your car? Discuss with your attorney the options for how best to accomplish these wishes. A general statement “divide everything equally, share and share alike,” may not work in your situation.
Open Communication Lines
If you appoint one sibling as executor, tell the others why you made that decision. Perhaps it is because they designated child is the eldest, or lives close by, which will make the process easier. Whatever your reason, you should communicate with your family it was your decision.
Choosing an Executor
Realize that asking someone to be an executor is more than a favor. It can be a very demanding job. Do they have the skills, temperament and time?
Leave things in Order
Life can be complicated, but death, can be more so. Imagine trying to step into one of your loved ones lives, pay there bills, and manage there home. To reduce the stress and time it will take the executor be sure all your financial information is organized and they know where to find it. See my earlier paragraph. But beyond credit cards, bank, retirement and investment accounts, leave contact names and numbers for insurance agents, bank representatives, utility companies, yard help and the myriad of other interests you may have. The better and easier to find this list is, then the less stress and time it will take the executor to fulfill your wishes.
Texas offers many different ways to probate an estate and therefore you should contact an attorney for assistance on what route may be best in your particular situation. If you work on a plan before your death, then you can pass that plan on to your loved ones and they will have confidence in what they are doing when the stress of losing a loved one happens.
Sam A. Moak is an attorney with the Huntsville law firm of Moak & Moak, P.C. He is licensed to practice in all fields of law by the Supreme Court of Texas, is a Member of the State Bar College, and is a member of the Real Estate, Probate and Trust Law Section of the State Bar of Texas.