An estate plan should be high onany doctor's financial planninglist. A family divided and thehigh legal costs spent to settle disputesis the price survivors often pay whenthere isn't sufficient written instructionsand documentation to supportthe deceased's final wishes.
For example, since their father'sdeath in July 2002, the children of baseballHall of Famer Ted Williams continuetheir bitter and costly feud overwhether their father's remains are to becremated or kept cryogenically frozen.
There are no winners when weleave it up to the courts to rule on ourfinal wishes. Although death is inevitable,the mess we leave behind isoften avoidable if we have our finalwishes down on paper.
Final wishes typically boil down tothe decisions regarding the extent towhich one's life should be prolonged,funeral arrangements, disposition ofremains (ie, organ donations, burial,cremation, etc), and the distribution ofestate assets and special bequests. So itis important to clarify your wishes forthese issues before you pass on by usingthe following guidelines:
Step 1. Hire a lawyer who specializesin estate issues to draw up the legallybinding documents required to fulfillyour final wishes.
Step 2. If you plan to donate yourorgans or have any unusual last wishes,such as having your remains cryogenicallyfrozen, contact the appropriateorganizations and obtain and executethe documents necessary to carry outyour preferences.
Step 3. Put all other final wishes inwriting and clearly detail everythingfrom funeral preferences to the dispositionof orphaned pets. If possible, discussyour choices with those who willbe directly impacted.
Step 4. Appoint primary and alternatepersons who are both willing andcapable of carrying out all of yourfinal directives.
Step 5. Organize estate gifts andspecial bequests. List who will getwhat, where it's located, and perhapsa little history about each gift—askyour lawyer about including specialbequests in your will.
Step 6. Ensure the beneficiary designationsin your life insurance policies,retirement plans, and brokerage accountsare up to date.
Step 7. Create a centralized sourceof vital family information in a notebookthat can easily be accessed bythose who will need this informationin your absence. And keep it in anaccessible location.
Martin Kuritz is a retired estate and financialplanner who has helped families economicallyand emotionally prepare for theinevitable for more than 30 years. He wroteThe Beneficiary Book (Active Insights;1992). It's available in a binder edition, a Windows softwareedition, and a brand new downloadable e-book edition. Formore information, visit www.active-insights.com or call800-222-9125.