When a death in the family occurs, survivors often face many challenging decisions and responsibilities. Some of these decisions can lead to family arguments, potentially even litigation. The type of funeral arrangements and costs, where to locate important financial records, how to divide personal property such as jewelry or furniture, or which friends and relatives should be notified of your death, are just a few of the many decisions that must be made. Making these decisions as well as numerous others can be even more difficult when dealing with the grief of losing a loved one. However, there’s a lot that can be done prior to your death to help your family with those difficult decisions later.
First and foremost, having done your estate planning, whether it’s writing a will or trust, or titling assets in a manner to avoid probate can significantly reduce the burden. Having clear and final instructions spelled out in your estate planning documents can eliminate a significant number of the decision-making responsibilities a family faces during the months after a death. In addition to having your estate planning done, making a list of your last wishes, including any burial instructions can be a great advantage for your family. Arranging for your own funeral services prior to your death is also a great way to avoid these difficult decisions having to be made by your family later.
A recurring theme in many of the estate litigation cases which I have handled is the division of personal property among your family members. It amazes me sometimes, with the amount of money families spend fighting over personal items such as dad’s desk, family photos, or holiday decorations, which have little to no financial or intrinsic value. You will be doing everyone in your immediate family a significant favor by making a detailed list of your personal property and who you would like it to go to. Make sure your list is clear and spelled out in a manner so that there is no confusion as to where you would like certain items to go and be sure to prepare it with the formalities required under Florida law.
In addition to these lists of instructions, other information that can greatly assist a family in wrapping the affairs of a loved one after a death should include:
1. Financial account information such as the name of the bank or financial institution holding your accounts, account numbers, your bank representative or financial advisor’s contact information. Any accounts which have beneficiary designations should also be specified. If you manage your accounts on-line then log-in information can also be provided.
2. Important Contacts’ information, such as your Estate planning attorney, accountants, financial advisors, and other friends and relatives you entrust with copies of your lists of instruction should be listed. Friends and relatives you would like notified of your death and any charities you would like donations made on your behalf can also be helpful.
3. Listing your Creditors and liability information allows the person, or institution chosen to manage your affairs after death, to provide the appropriate notices necessary to close the estate timely and effectively
4. Safe deposit box locations and access to keys or any other ownership information necessary to lawfully enter and inventory contents of the boxes can eliminate delays in opening an estate or finding valuable documents necessary to administer your estate. If original Wills are located in the safe deposit box, original copies should also be kept in other secure locations, or with trusted professionals or relatives. This information should also be provided.
This information is not necessarily all inclusive and other relevant information specific to each person’s unique circumstances and family dynamics should also be provided accordingly. Whether its care instructions for a pet, or handling on-line social accounts, if you have lists setting forth your instructions and how to locate important records or contacts, it can ease the tensions that families face when conflicts arise over decisions to be made after a loved one’s death.
Keeping these lists safe and secure is also important. Copies can be kept in a fire proof safe, with trusted friends, relatives or professionals, even under the mattress (though not recommended) so long as instructions are left somewhere or with someone to retrieve them after your death.
Last but certainly not least, if you feel comfortable, and your family is capable of handling discussing your post-death affairs, then communication, communication, communication. The more families discuss and openly communicate about your estate plans and wishes, the easier life after your death can be for your loved ones and survivors. It can mean the difference between a hostile division of family after costly litigation, or an amicable, stress-free and cost-effective process during an already emotionally charged and difficult time.
Whether you would like to discuss other ways to make life easier for your survivors after your death, or you are a relative facing the difficult process of wrapping up the affairs of a loved one who didn’t provide much instruction, please contact an experienced wills, trusts and estate attorney at the Law Offices of Christopher P. Taylor, P.A. today. The initial consultation is always free and can help ease the burdens that can arise after a death in the family.