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Preparing for Death

by Kevin McKinley - November 9th, 2014

Posted Under: around the house

Last Friday was Halloween, and we’re currently in the midst of the “Dia de los Muertos” (“Day of the Dead”) celebration.

So it seems like an appropriate time to talk about a scary subject: death, and more specifically, what financial-and-other steps you should take to prepare for your demise.

The Basics

First, the good news: you’re not going to die, at least not any time soon. But if you do pass away without the proper preparation, you only further burden your loved ones and survivors with unneeded uncertainty, confusion, expense, and paperwork.

Worse yet, your lack of forethought will force them to spend time handling your estate when they (and you) would probably prefer that they focus on grieving their loss, and cherishing the memories they have of you. You of course should have an updated will in place, along with health care directives, and guardians named for any minor children currently under your care. You may be able to accomplish much of what you need at relatively low cost by going online at such sites as LegalZoom or RocketLawyer.

But it might be worth it to invest a few more dollars and talk to a real, live human attorney. Youcan go to avvo.com to search for one in a particular area, both in terms of geography and expertise.

The Next Level

Another item to address is the beneficiary designations of your life insurance, retirement accounts, and pension plans. Often the current named recipient does not fit with your current intentions.

Unfortunately, the person named on these various forms can take precedence over whom you might have named in your aforementioned will. But you can usually update the beneficiary designations yourself by contacting the account sponsor directly.

After you have considered which people should get your property after you’re gone, there is another important party that you should consider: your pets.

You need to not only make arrangements for a person to care for your dog, cat, or parakeet, but should also make sure to leave more than enough money to cover the cost of food, vet bills, and the time spent by the pet’s new caretaker.

Electronic assets

If you’ve accepted the notion that the internet is not just a fad, and will be around as least as long as you are, you should take some measures to allow certain chosen survivors access to your various digital and online accounts.

This could entail your e-mail Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts, as well as any online vaults of photos, videos, and music that you’ve purchased.

The laws regarding this issue are currently messy hodgepodge that vary by state, and are additionally muddled by the terms of service provided by each … uh, provider. Hopefully, pending legislation will make the process simpler for estate planners, executors, and survivors. The Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Access Act (UFADAA) is not yet law, but would streamline the process nationwide. In the meantime, you may want to jot down all of your electronic accounts that have value to you, include your user name and passwords, and store them with your other estate documents.

Last But Not Least

According to the OrganDonor.gov website, over 100,000 people are waiting for an organ, and on average 18 people die each day while waiting for a transplant that could have saved their life.

You can join the 100 million Americans who have decided to “Give the Gift of Life” by becoming an organ donor. Make your wishes known in advance to your family and medical professionals, add the sticker to your driver’s license, and register online with the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

Your generous decision may not only extend and enhance the life of others, but your loved ones may take some comfort in knowing that your death was not entirely in vain.

And the more people who register as donors, the more likely it is that your life or the life of someone you love will be saved.