Five ways to make your survivors miserable

You have died, so your survivors are already grieving.  No one wants to “tie up loose ends” and take care of standard post-death things such as getting your death certificate, distributing your possessions, selling your house, etc.  These five ways will almost ensure that their job is made worse.

  1. Die without a will.  Dying without a will is called dying “intestate.”  Without a will directing what goes where, the person in charge of administering your estate needs to distribute according to statute.  This process could be easy, or could be difficult, but will almost definitely be more of a hassle.  If you have minor-age children, quadruple the “hassle quotient.”  Now the Court will need to determine who cares for your children (guardian) with no guidance from you–the person who knows best who the guardian should be.
  2. Have a trust prepared but do not fund it or put assets in it.  If you wisely have a revocable living trust prepared to, among other things, avoid probate, and you fail to re-title or deed the assets to your trust, then these assets will need to go through probate.  (This is not true if held in survivorship deed.)  I have seen probate estates opened just to probate a house or other deeded or titled property when the deceased had a trust prepared, but the trust was “empty”(unfunded).
  3. Fail to designate a point person to hold passwords to social media, email and other accounts.  Survivors might want access to your pictures, or to let others know you have passed.  At one point one company that stored pictures online would not let a surviving husband access his wife’s account.  Her account happened to contain almost all of their childrens’ pictures from birth.  For a professional with a LinkedIn account, notifying colleagues of your death might be critical to clients or matters.  In some circumstances a court order can lead to accessing the account.  Lessen the workload of your survivors by leaving a list of accounts and passwords in a secure place with a trusted person.
  4. Fail to leave instructions regarding cremation or burial.  This is one area that can turn amicable survivors into feuding adversaries.  Some people have strong feelings against being cremated while others have strong feelings against being buried.  Families often argue over which cemetery will be chosen, or where ashes are to be stored or scattered.  Do your family members a favor and specify these instructions.
  5. Neglect to provide for the care of pets.  Who will care for your dog, cat, horse, or other pets if you die?  Leaving a relative to distribute your assets and close your accounts is enough work without also leaving it up to him or her to find homes for your pets, or to be put in the heart-wrenching position of having to take them to the pound or shelter.  Leave provisions for pets in your will or have a pet trust prepared.
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Elderly parent and assisted living

A friend is facing the prospect of having to consider assisted living for her mother.  “Mother” is friendly, enjoys people her age, and although she loves all five of her grandchildren she does not want to live with them.  She wants to remain at home but, because of dementia, she needs a “memory care” facility.  She finally agreed to other living arrangements after forgetting about a pan of food frying on the stove and nearly burned her house down.

Addressing these issues before there is an immediate need for assisted living is preferable because an elder law attorney can work with you to qualify for Medicaid without losing much of what you own.  To qualify for Medicaid you must have no more than $1,500 in assets.  What you have, after considering exempt assets and other factors, must be “spent down.”  Taking this journey without an attorney is, in this attorney’s opinion, a poor decision.  Many people who decide to apply for Medicaid sell their home, mistakenly believing it will be taken–it is typically an exempt asset.  Unfortunately, then, the proceeds from the sale of the home (an asset that was previously exempt) are then a countable asset which will increase the amount you must spend down.

Takeaway: if a loved one will be entering a nursing home or assisted living facility, and will need to apply for Medicaid, consult with an elder law attorney.  The money you pay for the attorney’s counsel will likely not come close to the money and assets you will protect if applying for Medicaid.

Guest Post: What is Revocable Living Trust?

In my previous post, “Just married, no kids–do we need a will?” I advised that you might not need a will under certain circumstances.  One circumstance, in my opinion, necessitates not only a will but a living trust:  having a minor child.  If you have just a will, your minor child would inherit everything at age 18 from his or her deceased parents.  Very few 18 year-old young adults would be capable of managing money from an inheritance, let alone saving it for college and a secure future.

If you have young children please take a moment to read this post, “What is Revocable Living Trust,” from guest blogger and attorney Kevin Spence.