As a Realtor, I am often asked to help clients with the sale of property when a member of their family has passed on. Dealing with the death of a loved one is hard enough… but dealing with all of the legal, financial, and property matters on behalf of that person adds a level of stress that can only be fully understood by those who have gone through this difficult time.
The subject of dying and what would happen if the unthinkable happened is something that I’ve avoided all my life. I remember my Mom trying to discuss matters such as life insurance with me when I was much younger, and I listened… briefly, but only long enough to get her to stop talking about it. I just didn’t want to think about it.
Working with some clients recently, has prompted me to not only think about the inevitable, but to think about it in very practical terms.
Take a Moment to think about this…
Imagine members of your family in the days after your passing. How do they pick up where you left off? If you’ve written a will, hopefully, you’ve provided them with instructions on how you wish certain things to be handled. Have you?
If you’re the person who handles the family finances, would your spouse know what to do in order to continue to do everyday things like paying the heating bill? Would they even be able to access funds to pay expenses? Or would your accounts lock them out?
Who is the person that you trust to take care of things when you’re gone? Have you decided who that is, and have you talked to them about this important role? If that person had to walk into your home and sort things out… from your personal belongings to your finances…
Would they know where to start?
Do they know that at tax time in 1993, you put funds into a GIC with one bank, and in 1994, you chose to top up your RRSP with mutual funds at another bank? Do they know that in 2005, a telemarketing call from your credit card company prompted you to purchase extra life insurance, which by the way, provides your children with an extra gazillion or so dollars?
Some of the most frustrating things that I’ve seen people struggle with are as simple as:
How do we cancel the cable bill?
Where are the taxes for the past five years?
Which vet do we take the dog to?
Where is the Birth Certificate?
What’s the Password for Voicemail on the Telephone?
So far all I’ve come up with are questions. It’s completely frustrating. These are just the tip of the iceberg for anyone dealing with an estate. And while the person that you trust to deal with your estate, is working on sorting out your affairs (which by the way, can take up as much time as a full time job for a period of time)… what do you think is happening with their own life matters?
There are solutions to help take the guess work out of all of these mysteries. Like taking the time to organize your documents into a system that your family can understand:
Methods of accomplishing this will vary according to your comfort level with compiling this kind of information. Something as simple as a locking (and well organized) filing cabinet can do the job, and is probably way more effective than the stack of shoe boxes containing years of receipts hiding in many of our closets. But you may prefer a more secure means of containing your information.
Whatever method you choose, the time you take to organize your affairs now will allow your loved ones to spend less time trying to remember where you put your 10 year cell phone contract, and more time cherishing your memory as they sort through important items like old family photos.
I am not a lawyer, and I am not an expert in estate planning. This blog post is for conversational purposes, and is in no way intended to provide legal advice. If you require further information on this topic, you may research estate planning or seek the advice of a lawyer who specializes in this area.