Are You Ready? What You Should Do to Organize Your Financial Affairs for End of Life

This session, presented by Joseph Hawley and Beth Thompson from the Cape Cod 5 Bank, reviewed the important steps you should take to best prepare your financial life for your eventual death, including: legal documents you should have; professional advisors you should have; financial miss-steps to avoid; and, step by step things you can do to ensure your affairs are in good order.

What Legal Documents Do I Need?

Will: Your will is a legal document that designates what happens to your property after you die, names guardians for minor children and names your Personal Representative (formerly called an executor).  Without a will, state law will dictate how your estate is to be distributed, which may be contrary to how you want your assets to be transferred.     

Keep the original copy of your will in a secure place, such as a safe deposit box.  Your attorney should have a copy of your will as should the person you have designated as your Personal Representative.

Durable Power of Attorney: A Durable Power of Attorney delegates authority to an individual to act, while you are alive, on your behalf regarding your legal and financial affairs.

Healthcare Proxy: A Healthcare Proxy delegates authority to an individual to make medical decisions for you in the event you are incapacitated and unable to make these decisions on your own behalf.

Medical Directive/Living Will: These documents specify your medical care wishes (and other wishes such as funeral arrangements) in case you are unable to speak for yourself due to a medical incident.  It typically covers what measures you want or do not want taken to keep you alive.  

Trusts: Trusts minimize your estate tax exposure, avoid probate court and cover other final wishes.  An estate attorney can advise you on whether a trust should be part of your estate plan.

Which Professional Advisors Do I Need?

It's important that you speak with professionals who have expertise in financial matters to assure that your financial needs are appropriately managed, including:

Elder Law Attorney: Attorneys who practice elder law are knowledgeable in several areas that directly affect senior citizens such as estate planning.

Accountant: Even if you currently prepare your own tax returns, consider selecting a tax professional who will take over tax work. Having someone lined up will be very helpful to your spouse, partner and other family members.

Financial Advisor: You should have a credentialed, experienced investment advisor working on your behalf (or at the ready) to take on the responsibility of managing your investment assets when needed

Insurance Agent/AdvisorReview your insurance coverages every two years, particularly any life insurance policies you may own.  Is your life insurance coverage still needed?  Are the beneficiaries still the ones you want to have?

REMEMBER: THE MORE ORGANIZED YOU ARE, THE EASIER IT WILL BE FOR YOUR LOVED ONES TO DEAL WITH YOUR FINANCIAL AFFAIRS 

Online Resources

Creating a Will: In-depth information from AgingInPlace.org. Includes information on how to create your own will using online legal services.

What Does An Elder Law Attorney Do?: In-depth information from AgingInPlace.org. Includes information on services provided and how to find an appropriate attorney for your needs.

Estate Planning Essentials: Estate planning is a way to declare your wishes for your remains after your death and to give clear instructions if you become incapacitated. Information from the National Endowment for Financial Education.

Death of a Parent Checklist: Use this checklist and the resources identified below to help you navigate the steps you need to take to move forward if a parent has passed away. Information from SmartAboutMoney.org

Death of A Spouse Checklist: Use this checklist to help you navigate the steps you need to take to move forward if your spouse has passed away. Information from SmartAboutMoney.org

Getting Your Affairs in Order: Get organized before a medical emergency! Use this list to get your legal and financial papers in order. Learn about advance directives, wills, and trusts. Information from the National Institute on Aging.