Where There’s A Will

Having a comprehensive estate plan is not just for the rich. Plan now to make your loved ones' lives easier after you're gone.

help things go more smoothly.

GUARDIANS. If you have minor children, you should name guardians in your will, in case both you and your spouse die in a common disaster. Again, you should get the guardians’ permission before naming them. “I know of a couple who died together,” says Creuzot. “They had named their children’s aunt as a guardian but not told her. It worked out all right, but it would have been better if she had been prepared.”

Married couples may argue over who’ll be named guardian–someone on my side of the family or someone on yours. “I’ve been working with one couple for nearly a year,” says Femi Shote, a certified financial planner with the New England Financial Group in Waltham, Massachusetts. “The issue of choosing a guardian has been holding up everything. If they don’t reach some compromise, the entire plan may never be executed.”

A LETTER OF INSTRUCTION. You probably won’t change your will every time you buy a new car or sell mutual fund shares. Therefore, you may want to leave a letter of instruction in addition to your will. The letter should spell out, in some detail, exactly what your assets are and how you’d like them distributed. Remember, it’s not a legally binding document, but it will go a long way in helping your executor locate just what you owned before deciding how to distribute your possessions.

“The death of a loved one is a very emotional time for the survivors,” says Parker. “People may argue over who gets that plate or who gets that picture. The more you do while you’re alive, spelling out your wishes, the easier it will be for your loved ones.” Suppose, for example, you have some valuable watches you want to leave to your nephew or some jewelry you want a cousin to have. That type of bequest can be handled in a letter of instruction to the executor.

Although your bequests should be discussed in detail with everyone concerned while you’re alive, there may be some things you’d rather not discuss during your lifetim
e. In that case, you might want to make a video recording, with a final message to your heirs as well as any instructions you care to provide. “I recommend that everyone have a ‘death drawer,’” says Antonini, “known to all the family members. In that drawer you can leave a video and a letter of instruction spelling out your wishes for your property.” Even if you explain everything carefully to your heirs, it can’t hurt to go over it all again, on tape and in writing, so everyone knows exactly what you had in mind.

LIFE INSURANCE. If your income will be missed after your untimely death, you need some insurance. That’s a fact that’s all the more important if your children are minors. Here, the trick is to buy just enough coverage to cover your earning power, but not so much more that you’re wasting money that could go toward important items–such as your kids’ tuition

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