Dying Intelligently

By Max Valavanis, CFP

Why should we talk about dying? Let’s see… everyone is going to the great blue yonder eventually, and almost everyone screws up the paperwork. It’s true, and most Americans die with their paperwork incomplete. So, let’s talk about it just enough to make you think a little. Contemplating the process of dying and then methodically taking boring and mundane efforts to cover the basics is a chore, I know. However, not doing the proper paperwork ahead of time is a slap in the face to the loved ones you leave behind, figuratively speaking.

Make sure you have an updated will. If you live in Florida, make a valid Florida will. You will name your executor, and if you have any children under the age of 18, you can select their guardian. If you wish to have no will drafted, you may be hurting your loved ones. If you have no will, the State will draft one for you. Trust me on this one – the State’s will is not pretty.

Verify beneficiary designations. If you have any 401Ks, IRAs, life insurance, annuities, payable-on-death accounts, or any other money with a named beneficiary, check them over carefully. Years go by, divorces happen, and circumstances change. Make sure the people you love get your money. Remember, the devil is in the details.

Keep immediate cash available. This does not mean stuffing your pillows and mattresses with wrinkled bills! This means keeping $10,000 or so at the bank to handle ongoing bills and expenses. Better yet, you can list your executor as the payable-on-death beneficiary of one of your bank accounts. Now, that special person has immediate access to your cash once a death certificate is produced.

Pre-pay your funeral. If you do not pre-pay your final expenses, your executor will pay top-dollar to the funeral director. When everyone in your family is crying their eyes out, they cannot see those crazy prices!

Forget that safety deposit box. Unless you have another person listed on the safety deposit box as a joint owner, forget it! Never lock up stock or bond certificates in your box; instead, arrange for a financial firm to hold them for you. It could take months to get your box open without proper planning!

Draft a private notebook. It would help if you detailed your net worth here. List all the necessary contacts with addresses and telephone numbers and include statements and summaries. Here you will describe all your legal documents, and you could do this in a notebook or on your computer.

Write an ethical will. What’s that? Ethical wills express and detail family histories and share specific values. Here you will detail any estate planning you have completed; and above all, you can tell others still alive what you feel about everything. With help on this, go to www.ethicalwill.com or www.personalhistorians.org.