Death never comes at a convenient time. It may or may not offer time to prepare for the passage. Ready or not, however, when the time comes the business of death follows very soon thereafter.
Having helped many families through this difficult time, we have come to understand that thoughtful preparedness helps the dying to let go with less anxiety and gives the surviving family some peace of mind and the emotional space in which to grieve. With a charted path to follow the family can more easily navigate the inevitable financial issues that they must address. We call this thoughtful preparedness in last days “Financial Hospice” – the loving acknowledgment of the approaching death and the process of taking appropriate steps so that the business of death is handled quietly but deliberatively while there is time to for discussion, decision making and, if necessary, the drafting and signing of new financial forms and perhaps estate documents.
In many cases families and their professional team have limited time to prepare a loved one’s death. In whatever time is left, working through a thoughtful, sensitive review of the client’s wealth transfer plan can catch things still left undone and affords the opportunity to correct or enact what must be done to honor the loved one’s wishes and avoid legal and financial headaches after death.
Here are a few items for Financial Hospice:
Review the existing Estate Plan through the lens of Estate Settlement. What does the Executor do with the documents he or she will be executing? Is it clear? Does it say what the dying family member wants? Consult with the financial planner or attorney if you are not sure what is says.
Determine if there are next steps yet to be done. Unsigned drafts of documents updating the existing estate plan will not be honored. Charitable donations not mentioned anywhere but intended should be captured in a revised document or donated prior to death.
Don’t forget the items not usually addressed by attorneys – If there is no surviving spouse, who will take the dog, cat or (more problematic) the exotic birds?
New estate documents will have a paragraph that addresses the Digital Estate, your right to transfer ownership of your photos, music, books and any document that you store on line, now called “in the cloud.” Critical to retrieving those assets, however, is knowledge of the ID name and current password for each hosting site. Know where they are stored or make a new list.
The one mistake we discover when we work with surviving family members is that they waited too long. Items that could have been addressed, changed, executed or otherwise captured were not. While everything will be fine in the end, calling on your professional team for assistance with a little Financial Hospice can make this difficult passage easier for all concerned.