Let’s assume the worst. Suppose my wife Cathy and I are driving to the grocery store and a meteor wipes out our car. Suddenly and without warning we are both dead without the slightest opportunity to say anything to anybody. What then happens to our estate? Who would know what to do or who gets what? We’re skipping over the whole “everybody’s sad” thing. After tears in the eyes come dollar signs in the eyes.
Pretend that we don’t have wills.
We own our home and all its contents. We own our car. Who knows where the deed to the house is? Who knows where the title to our car is?
Bank accounts. Where are they? Which bank? What are the account numbers? Where is there a record of them that can easily be found? What about a safe deposit box that might be at a different bank because our bank doesn’t have one?
Stocks, bonds, annuities, life insurance, pension. You think I’ve bothered to make a list of these things or even told interested parties that I have none of these to save them countless hours of anxiety-ridden tedium looking for things that don’t exist?
You know what is a good one, don’t you? I’ve seen this when a friend asked me to straighten out his affairs for his foreigner wife while on his deathbed. He never thought to change the beneficiary on his life insurance so even though he intended it to go to his beloved wife who desperately needed it, it went to his greedy son instead. He had many years to change this and other things like it but he never got around to it.
Everyone should have a nice tidy list of all their assets. All the papers associated should be with this list and put in a very safe place, and your intended beneficiaries should know where all this is. I’ve been through this myself twice taking care of estates and it is not fun.
Do you care about your potential heirs? Do them a gigantic favor and tidy up your portfolio and make everything findable. If you don’t, the insurance company will thank you, the bank will thank you, and everyone besides the ones you care about most will be laughing all the way to the bank when you one day meet your untimely demise.
One important point: you are not responsible for a relative’s debt unless you assumed responsibility in writing while they were alive (help, but don’t co-sign). Let me translate that: If you and your spouse are living on credit, have separate cards each exclusively in your own name. I’m pretty sure that if one dies the other is not responsible but check on that before slitting your own throat. Some bill collectors will act like the deceased’s debts are your responsibility when they are not. However, the estate is first responsible to pay off any debts and only then can heirs collect what share is rightfully theirs. When there is an express beneficiary on an asset that is different, but to what extent I am not sure.
Make a treasure map and make it easy to follow. You don’t have to tell anyone how much is in an account, but certain people should be aware that it exists. You never know when that meteor might strike.