Problems You Can Avoid

First of all, it’s good to be back. I came down with pneumonia the last weekend in September and it knocked me for a loop. I’m not quite back at hundred percent but I’m getting there. Nasty stuff!

Whether or not you have an estate plan in place, you should have an inventory listing your assets. I won’t kid you for I have probate cases that walk into the office and when I ask what do the assets consist of, a photocopier paper box is placed on my conference table and I am told “Everything is in there.” It’s a problem and an expensive one given the time it takes to go through it and figure out what the estate consists of, where the assets are located and who the creditors are.

All this can be avoided by having inventory which doesn’t have to be complicated. I would start by listing any real estate. Addresses are fine but a copy of the deed would be better. And that includes warranty deeds, quit claim deeds and transfer on death deeds. If you own a timeshare, all of the documentation associated with it should be included. And do not forget mineral deeds. Including copies of any homeowners’s insurance policies would be a good idea.

Next I would list bank accounts be it checking, savings or money markets. You should identify the financial institutions, the account numbers, the type of ownership such as joint tenancy or in one’s name only, plus the user ID and the pass code for online banking purposes.

Let me stray for a moment. Besides pass codes for online banking purposes, don’t forget the pass codes for such digital assets as cell phones, computers, iPads and laptops. So much business is conducted up in the clouds, personal representatives or agents need to be able to get access to them.

You need a list of certificates of deposit, savings bonds, treasury bills, etc. and again, where they are located? If these items are kept in a safe deposit box, then people will need to know where it is located. Make sure someone other than yourself is on the signature card so that access can be gained to it.

With respect to investment accounts, the brokerage firm should be identified along with the account numbers. Now that I think about it, you need to make sure your beneficiary designations are correct and current. I’ve seen situations where all of the designated beneficiaries passed away and we wound up having to unnecessarily probate the investment account to get the proceeds to the heirs.

A word about insurance policies and annuities. Make sure you identify both the insurance company and local agent along with the account numbers and face values. There was a piece on 60 Minutes last spring which really caught my attention. Insurance companies know when their insureds passed away. There is some type of master list of that kept is current and referred to. But they don’t go out of their way to contact the beneficiaries to pay out the policy proceeds to them. If the insurance companies are never contacted and a claim is not filed, then the proceeds are not going to be paid out. According to the show, if you have a whole life insurance policy with cash values, the insurance company will draw down on those cash values to pay itself the premiums until exhausted. There is pending litigation over this.

Don’t forget titles to vehicles, motorcycles, motor homes and boats. You might include the insurance policies with these items.

Finally, an inventory isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on unless people know where to find it. I experienced this firsthand with my own mother who was so organized and kept track of everything in a notebook which was kept in a specific location in her home. You guessed it. When she passed away it couldn’t be found. We got through it but it was a hassle.

I trust you had a peaceful Thanksgiving.


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