Planning to Die: A 5-part guide to understanding the values of wills / Part 4 Beneficiaries & Belongings
Guest Blog: Katie Ortman, blogger
Two topics often overlooked in estate planning are beneficiaries and belongings. Beneficiary designations are separate contracts and are not subject to the terms of your Will. For example, if you signed up for your company’s 401(k) plan ten years ago when you were single, and you’re now married with children and you pass away unexpectedly, is your best friend or sibling getting that money? Or your family? When you married, did you update your beneficiary designation form? Or, if you were married and no longer are, have you changed your beneficiary to be someone you’d actually like to have inherit your money vs. your ex-spouse? This applies to all accounts with beneficiaries and life insurance policies. Not having those correctly assigned can cause huge, negative unintended consequences.
Belongings are another important thing to consider. My cousin Joni said, “Most people think the greatest thing to leave their family is even a modest legacy of money.” She went on to explain, “When considering the topic more deeply, you’ll find that most people want their legacy to be a healthy relationship among their children.”
Having these conversations in advance, while difficult, can help address any conflict that may happen after you’re gone. It’s certainly not pleasant to deal with now, but if you don’t, Joni has seen first-hand, “That conflict can mushroom upon your death and sometimes can permanently sever familial and sibling relationships.”
Who will get your watch, your wedding band, your 1969 Maserati Ghibli 4.7, the painting above the mantel, Grandma’s candy dish, your sewing supplies, your dog? The list goes on. If two siblings have their heart set on one item and no one can agree to who should get it, rifts can form. Do you want the fight over who gets that painting above the mantel be the reason your children stop speaking to one another?
Michelle Knox suggests “Death Over Dinner” in her TED Talk, Talk about death while you’re still healthy.
In her talk, she suggests, “Life would be a lot easier to live if we talked about death now while we’re healthy. For most of us, we wait until we are too emotional, too ill, or too physically exhausted, and then it’s too late. Isn’t it time we started taking ownership of our finale on earth?”
Have the adult kids over for some pizza and start taking dibs on belongings. Prepare a powerpoint presentation on what your end of life wishes are. Okay, it might not need to be that formal, but START TALKING. Do you want to die at home? Do you want to donate your organs and/or tissue? Do you want to be buried, cremated or have your body donated to science? Do you want your ashes spread over the Cliffs of Moher by your nephews and niece (hypothetically speaking)? Make sure someone, other than you, knows what you want, because – spoiler alert – you won’t be here to tell them.
On Friday, I will conclude with some stellar resources and high kicks for the biggest takeaway of all.