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Get to Know Me Monday #7 - Estate Planning and Thanksgiving

Today I am talking about estate planning.  As we approach Thanksgiving and gathering with family, it may be a good time to set aside a little time to talk to your family members about your estate plans. You may have the best laid plans, but if your survivors are not aware of where to find those important documents or who your trusted advisors are, your plans may not be carried out to your wishes.

While you may think this is not the conversation you want to have during the upcoming holidays, discussing these items now will save potential stress  when the family is grieving and not in the best emotional state to make important decisions.

Having this conversation with your trusted family members also allows you to find out what level of responsibility they are comfortable with assuming. Are they willing to be your health care power of attorney, financial power of attorney, or executor of your estate?

Keeping written lists (and informing your estate administrator of the location of those lists) will make sure no assets or wishes get left out.


First, make a list of all bank accounts, investment accounts, retirement accounts (IRAs, annuities, pensions, social security), and insurance policies.  Include the company name, all account numbers, and the contact information (name, phone number, email if possible) for each account. List the location of any physical documents you have in your possession.

Also, make a list of your advisors with contact information, including your attorney, financial advisors and CPA or tax preparer.

Go through the inside and outside of your home and make a list of all valuable items. The list may be a longer than you anticipated. As you go, you may want to add notes if someone comes to mind that you'd like to have the item after your death.

Let your family member know where you are keeping this inventory.


Your final arrangements go beyond what you want to happen to your property.  You should also include what type of funeral arrangements you want and what should happen to your remains after you're gone.

The best way to let your loved ones know about your funeral wishes is to write down a list of specific instructions in a document that is separate from your will or trust. This should include details about what should and should not be done so your family doesn't have to second guess what you would have wanted to happen.

The type of information to record in your final arrangements document includes:

  • Whether you want a funeral or memorial service

  • Where the service should be held

  • Who should be specifically notified of your death

  • Whether you want to be cremated or buried

  • Where you would like your ashes stored or disposed of or where you want to be buried

  • If you have prepaid any funeral expenses, burial plot or monument.

  • You may even want to include a draft of your obituary if there are certain items you want included, organizations you belong to, and if you want to designate a charity or other organization for memorial donations.

It is also important to let your loved ones know that you have created this document and where it is being stored.

Often by the time your will or trust is located, your loved ones will have already made all of the decisions about the disposition of your remains and memorial. Tell your family about your wishes while you're still alive to ensure your wishes are carried out.

If you are not inclined to write down your final wishes, consider talking to your loved ones about what you want to happen when you die. It could be as simple as saying that you would never want to be buried or you would never want to be cremated. This will go a long way to ease stress and anxiety during a difficult time.

Put your preferences in writing, give copies to family members or let them know where you are keeping these documents.  Avoid putting the only copy of your preferences in a safe deposit box; your family may not have immediate access to the safe deposit box.

If you're thinking about prepaying for funeral goods and services, it's important to consider these issues before putting down any money:

  • What are you are paying for? Are you buying only merchandise, like a casket and vault, or are you purchasing funeral services as well?

  • What happens to the money you've prepaid? States have different requirements for handling funds paid for prearranged funeral services.

  • What happens to the interest income on money that is prepaid and put into a trust account?

  • Are you protected if the firm you dealt with goes out of business?

  • Can you cancel the contract and get a full refund if you change your mind?

  • What happens if you move to a different area or die while away from home? Some prepaid funeral plans can be transferred, but often at an added cost.

As I’ve stated repeatedly, be sure to tell your family about the plans you've made and let them know where the documents are filed. If your family isn't aware that you've made plans, your wishes may not be carried out. And if family members don't know that you've prepaid the funeral costs, they could end up paying for the same arrangements.

I hope you can safely gather with family and friends this Thanksgiving week. Consider carving out a little time to discuss these important matters.

If you have a topic you’d like me to discuss, please let me know

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