Many estate plans fail, and often not because of any flaws in the documents or the plans. Estate planning failures frequently occur in the implementation and execution.
Especially important are actions taken by others, often your children.
They’re likely to be the ones putting key parts of the plan into action, not you.
So to ensure success, the key players need to know certain things.
Your children, or others you name to implement your plan, need to be able to answer these questions.
An estate plan often kicks in before a person passes away.
We don’t like to talk about it, but we’re all likely to have at least a brief period when someone else handles our affairs or makes medical decisions.
These documents empower people to do just that.
They don’t do any good, however, if no one knows about them when they’re needed.
Your children should know that you have both types of documents and where they are located.
They also should know who is appointed to act on your behalf, who the successors are, and how to contact all of them.
Anyone who’s likely to be contacted early in an emergency should have a copy or at least know the details about whom to contact, where to find the documents and what they say.
Assets owned by a living trust avoid probate.
They won’t be subject to the terms of the will or public scrutiny.
But the holder of your power of attorney might not be able to manage the trust assets, depending on how the trust agreement and power of attorney are written.
A successor trustee takes over when you can’t.
Your children need to know if you have a living trust, where the trust agreement is, and who the current and successor trustees are.
They also should know which assets are owned by the trust and which aren’t.
By all means, you should have an updated will.
Your children should know at least who the executor is, so he or she can be contacted.
They also should know who the successor executor is if the original isn’t available.
The executor, and probably key members of your family, should know where the original copy is kept.
Many states require the original to be filed with the probate court. If the original can’t be found, there can be delays in settling your estate.
There’s no reason to distribute copies of the will, as there’s rarely an urgent need for the document.
But it’s a good idea to let the children know its general contents so major surprises are avoided.
Those with the most urgent need for this information are the agent under your power of attorney, your executor and the successor trustee of your living trust.
In most estates, an adult child fills one or more of these roles.
The professionals include financial firms where you have accounts, life insurance agents or companies, your attorney and any accountant or tax preparer you use.
But you might also use other professionals.
The professionals can ease the process of settling the estate, filing insurance claims, finding and managing all the assets and more.
But be sure the contact information is readily available to those who might need it.
Of course, most of the professionals should know the details of your estate plan and have copies of the power of attorney, living trust and any other key documents.
This basic information should be known by anyone who might be around or contacted if you should have a medical emergency.
Even if the person isn’t empowered to make decisions under the advance medical directive, your care can be improved when this information is provided promptly to medical professionals.
Make it readily available to your loved ones and keep it updated.
Identity theft is a major concern these days, so it’s hard to help anyone without establishing their identity and yours.
That’s why your loved ones need details such as a copy of your driver’s license, Social Security number, date of birth, place of birth, mother’s maiden name, previous addresses and sometimes more.
Access to your Medicare card and any other insurance card can also be crucial.
Even an agent under a power of attorney or advance medical directive often has to provide some of this information before being allowed to take action.
Another way to ask this question is, how badly do you want to stay in your current home?
If the home becomes too much for you, would you prefer to move into an apartment or a place with more services, such as an independent living or assisted living residence?
Or would you like to pay for home care aides? Do you expect to move in with one of your children?
It is a good idea to consider these options and explore the choices in your area well before you need to make a decision.
Otherwise, if the time comes someone will make the decision for you and it will be made in a hurry.
The children often disagree about what their parents wanted.
It is not unusual for a child to remember a casual comment a parent made years earlier about funerals, burial, or cremations and interpret that as a last wish.
Sometimes two or more children have contradictory memories about such comments.
That’s why it’s important to give some thought to this question, and write down any preferences you have.
As you can tell, all children need the answers to some of these questions, while it might suffice to give the details of the other questions to only one or two children.
The children should know the answers to these questions before the need is apparent.
Because you’re unlikely to be able to help with the answers when the information is needed.