Write a Letter of Instruction for Loved Ones – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

A letter of intent is frequently recommended for parents of disabled children to share information for when the parent dies. However, letters of intent or a letter of instruction can also be a helpful resource for executors, says the article “Planning Head: For detailed instructions consider a letter of instruction” from The Mercury. This is especially valuable, if the executor does not know the decedent or their family members very well.

For disabled children, legal documents address specific issues and are not necessarily the right place to include personal information about the child or the parent’s desires for the child’s future. Estate plans need more information, especially for a minor child.

The goal is to create a document to make clear what the parents want for the child after they pass, whether that occurs early or late in the child’s life.

For a disabled child, the first questions to be addressed in the estate plan concern who will care for the child if the parent dies or becomes incapacitated, where will the child live and what funds will be available for their care. Once those matters are resolved, however, there are more questions about the child’s wants and needs.

The letter of intent can answer questions about the special information only a parent knows and is helpful in future decisions about their care and living situation.

The letter of intent concerning an estate should also include information about wishes for a funeral or burial and contain everything from directions for the music list for a ceremony to the writing on the headstone.

Once the letter of intent is created, the next question is, where should you put it so it is secure and can be accessed when it is needed?

Do not put it in a bank safe deposit box. This is a common error for estate planning documents as well. The executor may only access the contents of the safe deposit box after letters of administration have been issued. This happens after the funeral, and sometimes long after the funeral. By then, it will be too late for any instructions.

Keeping estate planning documents in a safe deposit box presents other problems. If the bank seals the safe deposit box on notification of the owner’s death, the executor will not be able to proceed. This can sometimes be prevented by having additional owners on the safe deposit box, if permitted by the bank . Any additional owners will also need to know where the key is located and be able get access to it.

The better solution is to keep all important documents including wills, financial power of attorney, health care powers, living wills, or health care directives, insurance forms, cemetery deeds, information for the family’s estate planning attorney, financial advisor, and CPA, etc., in one location known to the trusted person who will need access to the documents. That person will need a set of keys to the house. If they are kept in a fire and waterproof safe in the house; they will also need the keys to the safe.

If the parents move or move the documents, they will need to remember to tell the trusted person where these documents have moved. Otherwise, a lot of work will have been for naught.

Reference: The Mercury (Jan. 19, 2022) “Planning Head: For detailed instructions consider a letter of instruction”

 

Sims & Campbell, LLC – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning Attorneys

Estate Planning Checklist, Especially for Procrastinators – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Many people do not think of themselves as having an “estate.” However, a house, car, savings account, life insurance, and all the possessions you own are an estate. If, after years of procrastinating, you finally did the right thing and had an estate plan created with an experienced estate planning attorney, is there anything else you need to do? Yes, says Federal News Network in the article “Good at putting things off? Here’s the last checklist you’ll ever need!”

Where should you keep your estate planning documents? These documents need to be kept in a secure location that is known to the people who will need access to them. A will might be kept at home in a fire and waterproof safe, or at your attorney’s office. Each estate planning attorney has his or her own process and can make recommendations. A will placed in a safe deposit box may create huge headaches, if the box is sealed upon death. Remember that people will need easy access to some documents, like a Do Not Resuscitate, or Medical Health Care Proxy, so they could be stored somewhere in the home where they can be grabbed in an emergency.

Who should have a copy of my estate plan? This is a personal preference. Some people give a copy to all heirs and their executor. Others prefer to keep it private. It is essential that the person who will be your executor knows where your will is and can get access to it quickly.

Update beneficiary designations. Many assets are governed not by the will, but by the beneficiary designations on the accounts. That may include retirement accounts, annuities, IRAs, life insurance, and possibly bank accounts and investment accounts. Check them every few years, especially if there have been divorces, marriages and new members added to the family.

Review how your assets are titled. If there are assets owned as “joint with right of survivorship,” they will not pass through probate and will become owned by the joint owner upon death. Sometimes this works well for large accounts, but sometimes it backfires. Talk with your estate planning lawyer.

How long does my estate plan last? An estate plan does not have an expiration date.

When should I amend my estate plan? Anytime there is a large change in the law, as has recently occurred with the passage of the SECURE Act, the estate plan should be reviewed. The SECURE Act has changed the rules about IRA distributions for heirs. Anyone with a sizable IRA should review their plan.

Any time there is a large event in your life, is another time when your estate plan should be reviewed. Those events include a death, birth, marriage, or divorce. If the person you had named as your executor or who had been given Power of Attorney or Health Care Proxy is no longer in your life or is no longer trusted, you also want to review and change these documents.

Reference: Federal News Network (Feb. 5, 2020) “Good at putting things off? Here’s the last checklist you’ll ever need!”

Sims & Campbell, LLC – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning Attorneys

What If Your Executor Doesn’t Want to Serve? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

When you’ve finally come to determine who you trust enough to serve as your executor, you’ll need to take the next step. It involves having a conversation with the person about what you are asking them to do. You’ll need to ask if they are willing, says the Pocono Record in the article Don’t assume person is willing to be your executor.” People are often flattered at first when they are asked about this role, but if they don’t fully understand the responsibilities, they may decide not to serve just when you need them the most.

Once your executor has agreed to act on your behalf and you have a last will and testament prepared by an estate attorney, tell your executor where your will is stored. Remember that they need to have access, in addition to knowing where the document is. If the will is kept at home in a fire-proof box or a document box that is locked, make sure to tell them where the key is located.

If you feel that the will would be safer in a bank’s safe deposit vault, you have a few additional tasks to complete. One is to make sure that your executor will be able to access the safe deposit box. That may mean adding them to the list of people who have access. They may be technically permitted to enter the box with a bank representative solely for the purpose of obtaining the last will and testament.  However, you should check with your branch first.

Once they have the last will and testament and it is filed for probate, the Register of Wills issues Letters Testamentary, which says that the executor has the authority to open the safe deposit box to inventory its contents, after proper notice is given to the state’s authorities. The executor must complete an inventory form for the authorities and any personal property in the safe deposit box must be appraised for fair market value as of the date of death. Inheritance tax will need to be paid on the value, if there is any due.

Communication is very important in the executor’s role. You may or may not want to allow them to see the will before you pass, but they will need to know where the original document can be found.

To make the next part of the executor’s job easier, create an inventory of your assets and include information they will need to complete their task. They’ll also need to know contact information and account numbers for homeowners and car insurance, veterans’ benefits, credit cards, mortgage, pensions, retirement accounts and any other assets.

Some people store their information on their computer. However, if the executor cannot access your computer or cannot get into the computer because they don’t have your password, you may want to create a hard copy document, as well as keeping information on your computer.

Taking on the role of an executor is a big job. You can show your appreciation, even after you are gone, by making all preparations for the information needed.

Reference: Pocono Record (May 1, 2019) “Don’t assume person is willing to be your executor”

Sims & Campbell, LLC – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning Attorneys