Who Knows What in Your Family?


Families constantly build memories.  My childhood memories include driving vacations with my father, mother and sister to natural or historic sites like the Grand Canyon, Gettysburg, or Monticello.  Some of the best memories were they way we entertained ourselves in the car.  We tracked states on license plates, played word games, and joked about billboards.  In many ways, life was richer and fuller before a trip in car meant everyone wired to a cell phone, IPOD or DVD. 

My father and mother not only created great memories for my sister and me, but also built a lifetime of memories for themselves. We all value these jointly held memories, but there is another kind of joint memory that we need to plan for.  Often, without knowing it, a couple divides up various household responsibilities — including the responsibility for the maintaining a memory for the related tasks.  So, one person may take care of meal preparation, while the other person maintains the lawn. One person may remember important family birthdays while the other person pays the bills and handles investments.  Studies have shown that over time, spouses develop a joint memory, with the spouse who defers a task to the other – like remembering birthdays — not remembering them very well at all.    

Dividing up the work is what great partnerships are about.  However, it is also important that each person knows how to do all the chores, in case they need to take them on some day. In the business world we call this cross-training.  At home, it is essential common sense. 

As an estate planning attorney, I help people think about what will happen when the person responsible for money matters dies or becomes incapacitated.  Teaching each other the skills involved in the other’s chores is especially important in this area. Ask yourself:

  1.     Which bills are sent electronically, how do you pay them, and from which account?
  2.      Do you receive any automatic bank deposits, or pay bills by account transfers, or automatic credit card payment?
  3.     Where is important financial information kept, and if locked up where is the key, and if on a computer, what is the password to access the computer or file?
  4.      For online accounts, what are the passwords, user names, and account numbers?
  5.      Is there any life insurance, and how does it work (does it have cash value, can you borrow from it in a pinch)?
  6.     Do you each have “durable” financial powers of attorney, are they up to date, and do you the location of the document and how to contact your attorney for help using the powers? 
  7.     Do you each have health care powers of attorney and know where they are kept?  
  8.     Do you have a Living Will and know how it relates to your health care power of attorney?   
  9.    Do you each have a Trust which affords each other a management platform for important assets in the event of incapacity and death? Do you have a Will and do you know where the originals of these vital documents are kept?
  10.    Do you have strong, working relationships with trusted advisors, such as your estate planning attorney, broker, accountant, or insurance agent?

You have a 100% chance of dying, and a better than 50% chance of experiencing a period of incapacity.  When incapacity or death strike, it’s essential to know how things work, and where to get help.  Make sure you know the answers to the questions above. If you do not have current powers of attorney for financial and health care matters and a Trust or Will, make sure you get those in place. An estate planning attorney can help you.  In fact, when you work with Walker Lambe Rhudy Costley & Gill, PLLC, we will not only tailor an estate plan to your individual needs, we will provide you with a Portfolio in which you can easily track all of your important information, store your original documents for you, and offer you a secure web based platform from which you can access essential legal and financial information, and – at your choice, share this information with your family and professional advisors.   This year, Walker Lambe has introduced a new service to assist clients in planning for their “digital afterlife”.  With the number of internet based resources connecting to our social and financial lives, this new arena presents significant issues to be addressed thoughtfully.    

Take the time to make sure you know what you need to know.  You’ll find peace of mind once you do.

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