Getting Your Financial Affairs in Order by Wendolyn T. Forbes, CFP®
If you died today, who would take care of those who depend on you? Where would your money go? What would happen to your property? Would it go to those you love or the causes you support?
The decision and responsibility of managing your finances while you are living seem apparent. But what happens when you die?
As a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, it is important for me to ask clients whether they have an estate plan, which is often a combination of documents including a will, healthcare power of attorney, power of attorney, and, in some cases, a trust. Unfortunately, I have found that many people do not have these documents, particularly women.
Why is this the case? Often, I find, the concerns include anticipating the expense of hiring an estate attorney, not knowing what the estate attorney will need from them and facing their own mortality. Combine these concerns with scheduling an appointment to meet with an estate attorney during working hours and women tell me that they just don’t have enough time.
Why is an estate plan valuable to you? When blended families, multiple properties, family-owned businesses, and accumulated wealth are concerned, if the estate plan is nonexistent, your estate may be hit with taxes or lawsuits. For example, there is a Generation Skipping Transfer Tax (GSTT). The GSTT was created to prevent people from skipping one generation in favor of another. Consider a mother who decides to disinherit her daughter but bequeath her estate to her granddaughter. If the mother passes away and the granddaughter inherits, because of the GSTT, the penalty may be a tax of 40%. Also, without certain language within the will explaining why the daughter was disinherited, the daughter may sue her mother’s estate. Such events may have easily been avoided with the guidance of an estate attorney.
If you are in a situation like the ones described and you do not have an estate plan, please consider contacting an estate attorney and scheduling an appointment to create one.
If you’ve scheduled the appointment but have concerns about what may happen between now and then, these are some action items you can do right now:
- Confirm your beneficiaries are correct.
- If you are a single account holder, confirm you have updated your beneficiaries on your bank account (called Transfer on Death, or TOD, or Payable on Death, or POD), your retirement account(s) (including your IRAs, 401(k)s with current employer and former employers), and your life insurance policies.
- If you have a joint account with another person, in the state of North Carolina, that type of account is likely Joint with Right of Survivorship (JWROS). This means the surviving person will get the money in the account. If you have accounts in your name only, add a TOD or POD. Confirm your retirement account(s) and life insurance policies have the correct beneficiaries listed.
- Identify beneficiaries for your social media accounts. Facebook and other social media sites offer the opportunity for you to identify a beneficiary for your social media accounts. Take advantage of this benefit.
- Create your Advance Health Care Directives.
- The North Carolina Secretary of State website features Advance Health Care Directives (i.e., health care power of attorney, living will, advance directive for mental health treatment, and organ/tissue donor card) you can download and fill-out. Once completed, register these documents with the NC Secretary of State for $10 for each Advance Health Care Directive. Once filed, you will receive a unique file number and password so wherever you are, you can access your official document from the NC Secretary of State website for your healthcare professional. https://www.sosnc.gov/divisions/advance_healthcare_directives
- Provide your primary healthcare provider with a copy of these documents.
- Keep a list.
- List your names and phone numbers of family members and friends who need to be notified in the event of your incapacitation or death.
- List the names of the institutions, account numbers, and phone numbers for each of your banks, brokerage firms, insurance companies (life, home, auto, umbrella policies), mortgage companies (primary mortgage and home equity line of credit), and credit card companies. Check this list every 6-months and make changes if appropriate.
- List your username and passwords. If you use a password collection services (i.e., Google), list only your username and password for that service.
- Digitize your documents.
- Use an online encrypted vault service to store images of your list, Advance Health Care Directives, and insurance policies. These are usually available via brokerage firms or financial institutions. Check with your banker or financial professional.
- Identify your dependents.
- If you have minor children, you need to identify who you want to be their legal guardian if you are incapacitated or deceased. Do not assume that the kids will go to live with a specific relative. Also, discuss what to do to protect the financial interests of your dependents. For example, although minor children may be beneficiaries, they may not inherit directly. Talk about these topics with your estate attorney.
- If you have elderly dependents living at home with you, you need to consider their sources of care if you are unable to care for them.
- If you have pets, identify someone who would be willing to take your pet if you are incapacitated or deceased. Also consider placing a sticker on a visible window to your property indicating that pets are inside.
These are only a few of the action items and topics worthy of consideration as you navigate the estate planning process. After you meet with your estate attorney and create your estate plan, you may wonder what you should do with the documents. Keep them in a fireproof safe at your residence and tell a trusted person where he or she may find it in the event of an emergency. Please do not store them in a safe deposit box. Why not? If the safe deposit box is in your name, only you can access it. In the event of your incapacitation or death, a person needs to go through the process to become administrator or executor of your estate, then complete a will search.
Mortality is something that each of us experiences. Create your estate plan now to make sure that those whom you support or who count on you have fewer tasks to manage when grieving over your passing. If you would like a recommendation for an estate attorney, ask your CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ or tax professional.
Wendolyn Forbes is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ with Wealth Transition Finance, A Member of Advisory Services Network, LLC, where she offers financial planning and investment management services for either a one-time or on-going cost. For more information about Wendolyn’s financial services practice, please visit her website at www.wtf-asn.com.
Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc. owns the certification marks CFP®, CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ and federally registered CFP® (with flame design) in the U.S., which it awards to individuals who successfully complete CFP Board’s initial and ongoing certification requirements.
This material is provided as a courtesy and for educational purposes only. Please consult your investment professional, legal or tax advisor for specific information pertaining to your situation.
Originally published in Rumble by Smoky Mountain News on December 28, 2022, available here: https://smokymountainnews.com/lifestyle/rumble/item/34883-getting-your-financial-affairs-in-order