End of Life Planning

What to expect when you lose your parents.

Losing your parents can bring on unexpected responsibilities and rob your time to grieve. AARP’s checklist for what to do when a loved one dies can help streamline those responsibilities. Here’s where to start:

Immediately when you lose a parent, find support in sharing the news. From there, get legal pronouncement of the death and plan any funeral arrangements they had in place.

If your parent was residing alone, remove any valuables from their home and assign someone to check on the property regularly. Then, head to the post office and submit a new forwarding address to receive their mail.

Within a few weeks, obtain 10-20 copies of the death certificate from the funeral director or order them from the vital records office in the state in which your parent passed. You’ll need them for various reasons from claiming benefits to closing out bank, insurance and social accounts.

Locate your parents’ will and see who they named as the executor of their assets. This person will oversee that the distribution of the estate goes according to the wishes documented in your parents’ will. Then, bring the will to the local probate court to begin the probate process. At this time, you or the executor may want to meet with or hire an estate planner or attorney to help close your parents’ estate.

Probate will need to have a list of all your parents’ assets. This includes documentation of items ranging from bank and retirement accounts, real estate property, stocks and bonds to cars, jewelry, and art. During this time, the executor should handle any outstanding bills, mortgage, taxes, or debts on the estate. They should also cancel any unnecessary utilities, like internet, telephone, cable TV or streaming services.

It’s important to contact the Social Security Administration, DMV, credit and insurance agencies, and banks on behalf of the deceased. You will need a death certificate for each of these entities, along with any policy numbers for insurance.

If your parent did not leave any login information, you will need a death certificate to close out or memorialize any social or online accounts, including their email. While this process may take time, closing these accounts prevents spam, identity theft, and fraud.

End of Life Planning

When to get a written will and what you need to write one .

A written will ensures that your assets and property will be distributed as you wish. When deciding if you need a will, it’s best to consider where you’re at in your life and how many assets you’ve accumulated.

If you’re married, it’s important to document whether all your assets will go to your spouse. Similarly, if you’re a parent, deciding who will take guardianship over your minor children. The same goes for property owners, pet owners, and anyone with assets that would need distributing after they’ve passed. If you haven’t yet built up assets or are just starting out financially, it’s likely you won’t need a will just yet.

Having an estate plan in place allows your family members time to grieve and lower the chances of disputes. It’s important that you document these decisions properly. Handwritten wills bring added risk to the validity and reliability of the document and can even be questioned in court.

An online will-writing program may seem like a good middle ground between hiring out and writing your own, but it’s always recommended to consult with an attorney or estate planner. While do-it-yourself sites are more convenient and less spendy, they carry little assurance on the legal validity or accountability of your document.

Before writing your will, your lawyer or attorney will need a list of all your assets and the person or organization that will inherit each, along with any real estate property or guardianship. You’ll also have the option to name an executor in your will or an individual or organization that will ensure the proper distribution of your assets and property.

Creating a will costs time and money, but dying without a will in place risks leaving the distribution of your assets up to your local courts or state laws to decide on your behalf. This may not only go against your wishes but potentially generate legal expenses and conflict within your family. Having one in place will remove added stress for your loved ones and allow them the time they need to grieve and heal.

End of Life Planning

What to do with the belongings of someone who’s passed.

Assets have been distributed and cherished belongings have been claimed, now it’s time to decide what to do with your loved ones remaining possessions. You decide when they go and you decide where they go. But it’s important to note that not everything is going to find a new home, and you don’t need to feel guilty about that.

Truth is, society is returning to a minimalist lifestyle. Some furnishings and items like trinkets, flatware, and crystal bowls aren’t as widely used as they once were. In other words, you’re right to dispose of your late aunt’s floral-printed davenport and you’re right not to feel shameful about it. Odds are she wouldn’t have cared as much as you think, and she certainly doesn’t now.

While some unclaimed items will have a clear forthcoming, some shouldn’t be that simple. If any of the remaining furnishings or items are believed to hold value, visit a pawn shop, consult an antique dealer, or get them appraised. You’ll want to do this for high-end furnishings and things like jewelry, artwork, china, crystal, or flatware. Note that it can take time to find parties interested in these types of pieces.

A simple search can contribute specific items to online marketplaces, while nearby consignment shops and public libraries make great places for local donations. Hosting a yard sale also keeps your loved one’s remaining possessions in your community and provides the opportunity to donate the funds to a charity in their name.

As we age, there’s always opportunity to downsize our possessions. Offer to help declutter your loved one’s belongings at certain stages in their life, like as they enter retirement or plan to move. This will help prepare for the future and also allow you to gather the stories behind heirlooms or items they cherish that should be held onto.