Planning for the Inevitable
My Aunt Doris passed away recently and I’m her executor. The executor is the person designated to handle affairs after the death of a person. She and I had planned ahead to make her legal and financial affairs relatively easy for me to handle even though I live more than 2,000 miles away.
Several years before her death, my aunt and I went over how she wanted to be treated after she died. She had already purchased a funeral and burial policy with the local funeral home and prepaid for her final expenses even before she asked me to help her. Everything was in writing. Everyone knew what was to happen. This precluded any anxiety or confusion that can accompany a death, sudden or expected, because of advance planning.
At the time we were planning her exit from this world, she met with an attorney to draft a new will and rescind a trust she had set up years ago. Her life was pretty complicated when she set up the revocable living trust, but her situation had simplified, and she and her attorney no longer felt there was a need for such detailed instructions and actions.
At the time of drafting a new will, my aunt’s attorney produced a durable power of attorney with me as her agent to handle her financial affairs. We went so far as to add me to her checking account and credit card. Because of online banking, I was able to supervise her financial affairs from afar. I visited her periodically and went over any financial concerns she had been patiently waiting to discuss during my visit. As an engineer type person, she had prepared detailed lists and notes each time I met her in person. The week before she died, Doris had her local pharmacy fax me a six-point list detailing the status of various accounts.
During the last few years of her life, I occasionally accompanied Doris to visits with doctors and other health care professionals. Her attorney had produced a medical power of attorney appointing me to act on her behalf if she was unable to make her own medical decisions. She had also produced what is called a living will detailing exactly how she wanted to be treated if incapacitated. She left no stone unturned. I had names and numbers for each healthcare practitioner, supplier, and the insurance company. Doris had her “Do Not Resituate” order posted on her refrigerator door and her bed stand. I had a PDF version on my computers and smartphone.
After Aunt Doris died, I immediately pulled up the checklist on my computer that I have provided to many clients over the years. Now it was time to customize it for my executor role. Almost all the tasks were accomplished within 10 days of her death. The one item she never mentioned, nor did I, was her obituary. Because I had known her my whole life, I drafted an obituary and shared it will two close relatives for their input and approval.
Other things that my aunt owned were automatically distributed using a copy of her death certificate. Examples include retirement accounts, life insurance policies, and real property according to the title if it does not have to go through a process known as probate. In a probate proceeding, a judge determines who receives the property if a title or beneficiary designation does not move it automatically. My aunt had a small estate and her attorney agreed probate was not needed. This can vary with each state.
We all need to be like Aunt Doris. Plan ahead, make your wishes known, update your documents periodically, and check-in with your designees to make sure you haven’t left them in the dark. I’m grateful she was willing to work through this planning to ease the burden on those who loved her dearly. Thank you, Aunt Doris. We love you and we miss you.