One day, my mother received a phone call from an elderly aunt in Phoenix. Her husband had passed away the year before and this great aunt was ‘getting her affairs in order’. She asked my mother if she would settle her estate when the time came. My mother agreed.
Years later, the aunt died. My mother felt an obligation to take care of things. Where to begin? A Will, of course! That will tell me what to do, my mother thought. The problem was, Mom didn’t have a copy of a will, didn’t know where her aunt kept one, and didn’t know the attorney who had (presumably) written one. Okay, we should search her house. Well, she lived in a different state and Mom didn’t have a house key. After flying to Phoenix, she had to get a court order for permission to enter the house and pay a locksmith to open the door. She searched the house and couldn’t find a will or a safe deposit key or any clues. She had to go back to court to be appointed the Estate Administrator. More legal fees paid.
Next issue; where to bury her? Oh, well she probably has a cemetery plot next to her husband. Search. Nope, he had been buried next to his first wife. Oh, well maybe the aunt had planned to be buried next to her first husband. Ah…what was his name? I was just a kid when he died…
All the cemeteries were searching for a plot owned by the aunt. The days went by. Mom decided she would have to buy a plot, so she did. But just before they were ready to bury her, a cemetery discovered a plot under her name. Okay, that’s good. At least she’ll rest where she wanted to be. I’ll just have to sell this one I just bought…
Of course, this was just the tip of the iceberg. The story goes on and on. A couple of years later when the estate was finally settled, there wasn’t enough money left to reimburse my mom for everything she’d paid. Unfortunately, much of the hassle and cost could have been easily avoided.
Having your affairs in order does not mean you need to spend a lot of money and have everything perfect, but it does mean more than just appointing a responsible person to handle it. To get started:
- If you have minor children or are raising grandchildren, decide with who and where they would live in the event of your death. Discuss it with that person and make sure they will accept that responsibility.
- Make sure you have a Will and update it periodically as life changes.
- Organize your important papers, legal documents and financial information. Don’t forget your online life; keep user ids and passwords secure and current.
- Express your desires verbally and on paper of who you want to take care of things and what they should do. Name an alternate person just in case. Tell them where to find your documents. If you keep them in a safe deposit box, make sure they have access and know where to find a key. If you keep them in a safe, they should have the combination or know where to find it.
- Express your desires for your end of life/medical preferences with your doctors, appointed representative and family members.
It’s easy to think that none of this applies if you’re young and healthy, but we all need to be prepared