Death Hacks: Make Well-Reasoned Decisions
Welcome back to our second edition of 101 Death Hacks. This week, we’re focusing on big choices you need to make when it comes to your estate and your funeral.
Make Time, Make it Enjoyable
- If you’re single, treat yourself to a night out to think through the specifics of your plan
Thinking about your ultimate demise is probably on the bottom of your list of things you want to do with your weekend. Instead, take a weeknight, go to your favorite restaurant/coffee shop/bar, order your favorite thing off the menu, and take an hour to relax and think through some specifics for your estate plan.
- If you’re married, schedule a “date night” to discuss the specifics of your plan
You’re busy. Your husband’s busy. Your 2.7 kids are busier than both of you put together. How could you possibly have time to do estate planning? Pro tip: use estate planning as an excuse to schedule a date night – just the two of you. Enjoy a night out, your favorite restaurant, and some conversation about estate planning.
- Choose the right executor
The executor is the person who will coordinate where your stuff goes if you have a will. You could say they’re an accountant, a security guard, and Santa Claus all rolled into one person. Bottom line: being an executor is a significant responsibility, so choosing the right person for the job could make or break how effective your will is.
- Choose the right trustee
Choosing the right trustee is just as important as choosing the right executor – for many of the same reasons. Start by figuring out what kind of trust or trusts they’ll be in charge of, then think about what traits will be important for them to have in that role.
- Choose the right guardian
Guardians are a special subset of fiduciaries because they’re selected by you to care for your kids. And the choice of a guardian for your children can be an emotional one for you as parents to make together. Your primary considerations should probably be who you trust most and what your kids’ needs are.
We’re here to help! Contact us to set up an appointment to talk about how to choose the right fiduciaries. Or, if you’re a DIY kind of person, we’ve put together some handy Client’s Guides for choosing your Executor, Trustee, and Guardian which you can access on our Resources page.
- Designate one person to act as fiduciary at a time (during administration)
Appointing two or more executors is a sure fire way to create delays. Just the logistics of scheduling appointments with two separate people can delay things, but if one or more of those people lives outside Iowa, the delays increase exponentially. Worried about treating your kids fairly? Consider: when asked who should be executor, your children probably won’t fight over the opportunity.
- Designate the executor for out of state assets, if any
If you own a house or land in more than one state, you will probably need what’s called ancillary probate in that state. It will greatly simplify the administration of your estate if you can designate someone who lives in that state to handle the ancillary probate rather than expect your Iowa-resident child to deal with attorneys across state lines or across the country.
- Consider using a common trust for minor children
While you’re living, your 28 year old son doesn’t get a third of your stuff when he moves out. That’s why we often use Common Trusts to provide the full amount of your resources for the care of your young kids, just like you would if you were still living. A Common Trust keeps all your stuff in a single pool until your youngest child reaches a certain age, then divides equally among all your kids.
- Consider using lifetime trusts
There are certain things you can do for your kids (even adult kids) that they can’t do for themselves. One example is asset protection. By creating separate trusts under your will for each of your kids, you can help them protect their inheritance from lawsuits, estranged spouses, medical bills, and predators (the infamous “gold digger”).
- Consider using staggered distributions
Another option for distributing your assets is through staggered distributions – 20% per year for 5 years, for example. This approach can help avoid what’s sometimes called “lottery syndrome” where someone receives a large windfall and ends up going bankrupt.
Pre-planning your final arrangements can be extremely beneficial for the loved ones you leave behind. My own family is a great example: before she died, my grandmother had planned her entire funeral service and memorial, down to the artwork for the programs (which she drew or painted herself). My mom and her siblings repeated over and over: “We didn’t have to make any decisions. Mom had it all done for us ahead of time!” It was a great weight off of their minds and enabled them to focus on sharing her memory.
- Make arrangements for your physical remains
Do you want to be cremated or buried? Where will your ashes be stored or disposed of? Have you chosen a coffin or urn?
- Consider organ donation
Some people hate the idea of being buried without their bodies intact. Some people are religiously opposed to donating organs. But if you don’t fit either of those groups, your healthy heart, lungs, liver, kidney, and many other organs could very well save someone’s life now that you don’t need them anymore.
- Are you donating your body to science? Contact the organization you want to donate to and fill out their paperwork ahead of time.
If you want to donate your body for medical research or other scientific endeavors, make sure you choose the organization you are supporting and fill out their forms in advance. Your spouse or children may not be able to emotionally handle giving your body to someone else for experimentation. But can you really blame them?
Outline your funeral or memorial service
- Choose your pall bearers
- Choose scripture or other readings for the service
- Choose the music you’d like to have played
- Choose the speakers you want (e.g. for your eulogy or a minister)
- Purchase a burial plot
Side bonus to this advance planning: your burial plot is shielded from Medicaid and nursing home costs.
- Pre-pay all your funeral arrangements
Prepaying your funeral can also benefit you during life because a prepaid funeral plan is exempt from Medicaid just like the burial plot is.
- Write your obituary
You can choose the last thing the world hears about you. Simply write your own obituary and have your spouse, children or even the funeral director submit it to the local papers after you pass.