As people move through their lives, they hit certain milestones along the way: getting a driver’s license; graduating college; getting married; celebrating the birth of their first child; and yes, even drafting your first will is a milestone. While planning for the inevitable is often times a topic that many people tend to avoid, postpone or even disregard, a little bit of planning on your part can make a huge difference to those you leave behind. While this article isn’t specifically about drafting a will, I at least hope to leave the reader with a strong impression about how important it is. A will is an essential document that will direct your final wishes; without one, you are simply at the mercy of what the Court decides.
That said, the remainder of this article pre-supposes that you have already had the forethought to prepare a will. So, with that out of the way, what else do you need to worry about? The grief of a family member passing is hard enough to handle without piling on the frustration of trying to sort through that loved one’s estate. When you pass away, your goal should be to make the process as easy on your loved ones as possible. Believe it or not, that actually is easier than it might sound.
The main thing you can do to help ease the process for those you leave behind? BE ORGANIZED! Trite as it may sound, a little bit of planning now, wherein you gather all of the important documents in your life, will make a huge difference later on. While the list isn’t long, I would urge you to gather and keep the following documents together in a safe place that loved ones can access when and if necessary.
As alluded to above, perhaps the most important document you should keep is your will. This is the basic roadmap that directs how you want your estate handled. As a general rule, only an original will can be submitted to probate in New York. It’s therefore critical that the original be kept safe. As a general guideline, I typically recommend that my clients leave their original wills in my custody so there is never a question about their location, while they are given copies for their own records. Clients, however, are always free to keep the originals, but it then falls on them to ensure their safekeeping.
In addition to your will, there are a few other documents that I would urge you to gather together. Please keep in mind that these are general categories to be used for the sake of guidance, but they are fairly comprehensive. The first category I would suggest is life insurance policies and retirement accounts. Individuals often times have a long and varied work history, and will have accumulated accounts across many sectors. Family members cannot be expected to know the whereabouts or identity of each account without your providing that information. I would suggest the same holds true for bank accounts. Gather any information you can to make locating bank accounts and safe deposit boxes as easy as possible. Finally, I would recommend gathering together all of your major documents of ownership; this would include deeds to real property and titles to any vehicles that you might own. With all of these documents in hand and readily discoverable by your loved ones, you’ll be able to rest a little easier knowing that at least one burden will be lifted from your family once you pass.