Planning or Settling an Estate? – Watch These Videos

I wanted to share a couple of excellent videos on estate planning and administration from Rabalais Estate Planning, LLC along with a couple pieces of advice from my own experience.

Planning Your Own Estate

Eight Things NOT to Put in Your Will provides some good advice on what should and should not go into the will. He also mentions Living Trusts which are a great tool for avoiding probate and simplifying the handling of the estate after you pass on.

The eight items include such things as funeral arrangements, LLC assets and reasons for specific inheritances. Basically, they come down to three categories:

  • Anything to do with your body (arrangements, organ donation, etc.) as these will probably need to be taken care of before anyone gets around to handling the will
  • Anything that already has a beneficiary legally named such as retirement accounts
  • Family drama and grievances. Don’t take parting shots – it’s a will, not your autobiography.

From my own experience, my main advice would be simply to choose someone responsible and reliable to handle your estate and talk to them on a regular basis. Keep the communication open about any changes, even if it’s just a conversation once or twice a year and make sure you document everything. This is harder than you would think as nobody really wants to plan for their death but if you don’t do it now, someone else will have a much harder time doing it later.

Handling the Estate of Another

I actually used 12 Dumb Mistakes Executors Make as a checklist to review my own experience in settling an estate. I was relieved to have avoided all 12.

I’m sure you’ve heard as many stories as I have of family drama and infighting in the wake of a parent’s death as the children and other beneficiaries start arguing over who should get what. Much of this could probably be avoided through some smart planning decisions beforehand but it can also come from questionable decisions on the executor’s part. This is especially true with the things mentioned in the video like poor communication and self dealing.

My own advice is simply this – document, document, document. Document everything that you do as an executor, from distributing tangible items such as furniture, clothing and other assets to meetings with lawyers and other estate professionals . Make sure that you can pull up some kind of record to account for any decision you’ve made. This is even more important if you have to take over someone’s affairs in the time before they die. Many actions, such as the transfer of real estate, provide their own form of documentation but you should also keep some kind of notes on the reasons for various decisions.

People forget to document because they’re not acccustomed to it, think that it has to be a formal process or assume they can remember just fine on their own. Do not trust your own memory when it comes to all the details of someone else’s estate that you might be dealing with during a time of grief. Today, e-mails and text messages also provide an easy form of documentation – keep everything. You can use a simple Word document to maintain a log of estate actions. You can use Quicken or even Excel to record cash transactions. That’s especially important as you will probably need to file taxes for the estate at least once and might need to deduct expenses on your own taxes.

Of course, make sure you backup and password protect everything as necessary, too.