Some people plan for their death and the fate of loved ones, whether it’s by a will, trust, re-titling and re-deeding assets, or other ways. These are my clients. Other people do not do this planning, and the reasons are typically because 1) they don’t want to think about it, 2) they don’t have the time or money for it, 3) they think others will take care of everything if they die. These are many of my family members and friends.
Frankly, people die, their loved ones do take care of everything, and life goes on. But, if you practice probate and estate administration as I do, you see so many situations where loved ones are left trying to “take care of everything” in impossible or contentious situations, where families fight and relationships become extremely strained, or irreparably damaged.
What if you do not want to engage in any estate planning–for any number of reasons, you don’t want to have a will or a trust prepared. At least not yet. However, you do see the need to provide some guidance to loved ones should you die. There are very basic steps you can take to provide this guidance. It goes without saying that I always recommend a will or trust, but something–barebones planning–is better than nothing. I guarantee you it would be appreciated.
The following is a list you can do, on your own, to make the lives of your loved ones easier if you die. Some steps are specific to Ohio, where I’m licensed to practice. Tailor to your own situation:
1. Children: if you have children under 18 years old, write down 3 people in order of priority who you would choose to raise your children (guardian). Sign it in front of two unrelated witnesses.
2. Funeral: disagreements over your final disposition are common. Write down whether you want buried or cremated. If buried, name a cemetery. If cremated, what happens to your ashes? List two people in order of priority who will be in charge of decision-making and with making sure your wishes are followed. Sign it in front of two unrelated witnesses, or have it notarized.
3. Medical decision-making: name a person and 2 successors to be in charge of decisions about your medical care if you cannot make them. Explain your wishes about artificial life support–do you want kept alive by artificial means? Sign it in front of two unrelated witnesses.
4. Pets: please provide for their fate if you die. Many family members take pets to shelters after their owner dies. Who do you want to care for your pet? List two successors after this person. Will you leave them money to help with the care? How much? Sign it in front of two unrelated witnesses.
5. Specific bequests: do you have possessions that you want to go to specific people? List the items, and to whom they go. Sign it in front of two unrelated witnesses.
This list is not exhaustive, but it covers the areas where I see fighting among relatives. Having guidance during a time of grief is a gift.
If you have any questions about this post, or about estate planning, contact me at email@example.com.