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OPINION

JUST PLAIN TALK: Estate planning, pre and post mortem

Buz Livingston
Buz Livingston

Thanks to everyone who reached out after my Pop died. The cards, texts, Facebook posts, and calls were appreciated. I ditched cursive writing decades ago because it always looked like a chicken scratching, but cursive delivers sincerity, thanks, especially to Jill, Semper Fi.

Contrary to media reports, no one dies without a will. If you die intestate, without a written will, the courts have one. It’s your choice — either you decide who gets your assets or the courts do.

Many people delay making a will. Sonny Bono and Prince both left sizable estates but no will.

It’s like this. When you die, your money goes to your heirs, a charity, the government, or a lawyer. When you die without a will, the lawyer gets a lot. Jimi Hendrix and Bob Marley both died intestate, and the legal wrangling went on for decades.

Married couples often designate each other as executor. Wills often include a clause allowing a contingent executor to act in case of incapacitation. Review your will and make sure your designated executor remains competent.

An executor should get multiple death certificates. Have enough death certificates for any accounts the deceased owned. Some institutions may not accept electronic copies.

Depending on the complexity, consider hiring an experienced attorney, CFP, or CPA. You want to avoid a catastrophic error, and the estate may be able to cover any fees. A CPA can file any necessary tax returns.

A will must be probated, and part of an executor’s job is to apply for probate. Ideally, you want assets to pass outside probate. It’s quicker and avoids attorney fees, but there are often assets subject to probate. Also, notify named beneficiaries as well as potential natural heirs along with any creditors.

While many states require advertisement of the deceased’s passing for potential unknown creditors, contact banks, credit card companies, and the Social Security Administration directly. I like the idea of setting up a separate bank account for the estate. Just because someone dies doesn’t mean there are no bills to pay. Plus, there can be post-mortem income.

In addition to setting up an estate bank account, an executor should inventory the decedent’s assets and liabilities. An executor is responsible for protecting the home and personal property from theft or destruction.

Managing an ongoing business could be more problematic, but it is part of an executor’s job description. Once debts are settled, the executor can distribute assets per the will or by state intestate law if no will exists.

Hank Williams was right; none of us will get out of this world alive. Hug the ones you love while you are here and make it easy for them when you are gone. Do not take this article as legal advice. Before making any decisions, consult an attorney.

You can’t always get what you want, but Buz Livingston, CFP, can help you figure out what you need. For specific advice, visit livingstonfinancial.net or drop by, masked, 2050 West County Highway 30A, M1 Suite 230.