Part of what we do at Blalock Walters is assist surviving family members with administrative matters after the death of a loved one. It’s at that point in time when the effectiveness of the decedent’s estate plan is tested. So, to help our clients develop estate plans that will actually operate as efficiently as they intend, we try to raise our clients’ awareness that sometimes small oversights can cause big headaches later, for example:
1. Be sure that beneficiary designations on life insurance policies, IRA’s, annuity contracts and “payable on death” accounts are complete. Regrettably, we often find that many clients fail to include the name of a “contingent” beneficiary. The designation of a contingent beneficiary can help avoid probate and can often provide tax benefits as well.
2. Don’t forget to account for small real estate holdings, such as undeveloped lots, oil and gas leaseholds and timeshares. It is generally not difficult to plan for these interests to pass outside of probate. Also, many clients find that the sale or other disposition of these assets while living makes the most sense. Either way, what’s most important is that these items not be overlooked during the planning process.
3. Be careful of “joint accounts”. In many cases, the surviving joint owner of a decedent’s bank account will have legal rights to 100% of the account balance. This result may not have been the deceased owner’s intention. There are several planning alternatives that can avoid this result and at the same time accomplish the objective of allowing administrative access to the account during the decedent’s lifetime.
4. Make your wishes known regarding your tangible personal property. Many clients have Wills that refer to a “separate writing” which (ideally) lists certain items the person intends to pass to named individuals. However, very few people actually take advantage of the conveniences offered by a “separate writing”. If you have certain personal items (jewelry, photos, artwork, etc.) that you wish to pass to certain named persons, you will be doing a great service to your designated personal representative if you use the “separate writing” format to state your preferences. Much creativity is evolving in this area, as we see some clients utilizing digital video technologies to express their wishes regarding their personal effects.
There are other examples of small oversights that can add cost and inconvenience to the administration of a loved one’s final affairs. As counselors, please don’t hesitate to call upon us for assistance as we can guide you to attend to the details of your estate plan, and help you make a difference as well.