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Lessons from mom on estate planning

It’s only been three weeks, to the day, since my mom died and I have a few thoughts on what I have learned in regard to her estate planning matters. Some things done right and things not done right.

VICTORY: My mom named me as co-trustee on her trust almost 10 years ago when she was in her mid-60’s. At the time she traveled a lot so it was convenient to have me on her bank accounts if she was out of the country. However, merely being co-owner is not enough it should be in the trust and as co-trustees. Upon her death I was already on her account so was able to keep on writing checks as needed.

VICTORY: My mom was an estate planning attorney and was pretty careful to acquire assets in the name of her trust. I believe we will avoid a trip to the probate court. Might be a few small refund checks, and the like, that come in to her name but those can be dealt with by small estate affidavit.

VICTORY: My mom had some cash in her checking account. It is amazing how much it costs to die in this country. Yes, a lot of things are optional but if given the option, when it’s your mom or dad, don’t you want to say YES?  Having cash available makes it so you can say yes to every upgrade, every reasonable option, and help send your loved one out in proper style! Plus, you may need to pack up a house, hire people, hire movers, etc….  Cash on hand comes in handy!

SET BACK: My mom owned a few, low value, items not in her trust. Most notably factional shares of stock. I can not tell you how important it is to get all your stocks and investments into your trust and please consider holding it all at a stock brokerage company rather than in paper form or in direct investment accounts with each company. The amount of paperwork is tremendous… even when the dollar values are low.

SET BACK: My mom liked to have her assets spread out at a few different financial institutions. With the Patriot Act every bank transaction is a major fiasco. In my opinion less is more when it comes to financial institutions. Assuming there are not FDIC insurance issues (over $250k for cash deposits) I encourage consolidation. In particular I like to have stocks consolidated to one institution. It makes it MUCH easier when someone dies.

At the moment that’s what I have. I am sure there will be more, good and bad, that I learn. In closing I want to reiterate the above set back though. Please get ALL your assets in your trust and please consider putting all stock into ONE stock brokerage to make transfer easier after death!

-John

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