Decide now who gets what, when, and how.
who gets mama's china?
by Bill and Brenda Evans
“When I die, I don’t want to leave a mess.”
We’ve said that, and perhaps you have, too. One of the easiest ways to leave a mess is to do no estate planning. At the least that will leave disorder, and at the worst chaos, anger, and litigation that destroy our families.
So don’t leave a mess. Create an estate plan that considers who gets what, as well as when and how it is passed along. That plan may include a will, trust, insurance contracts or various other legal arrangements that accomplish your goals. We’ll share a simple overview that will help you get started.
WHO is about people.
These are the people and organizations you love, are responsible for, and want to benefit. This may include children, step-children, relatives or friends you are caring for, as well as the Christian organizations you love.
One way of thinking about what to do with what you have accumulated is to look at people, possessions, plans, in that order. Always consider the human side first. “Take your heirs’ emotions into account when you divide up the goodies,” advises Janet Morrissey of Fortune magazine. And remember, too, that in life you have loved your church and its denominational agencies. In death, you will want to remember those as well.
WHAT is about possessions.
By this, we simply mean what you own. That includes real property—home, farm, land, other properties; businesses; bank accounts; investments such as stocks, bonds, CDs; IRAs, 401Ks, or other retirement plans; insurance or notes you hold by contract; personal property such as boats, motor homes, collectibles, machinery, livestock.
List those assets and, as accurately as possible, assign a monetary value to each. As a sidebar on that topic, for the past 15 years we have done an annual net worth statement at the end of each year. In addition to helping with estate planning, this document shows us whether we are moving forward financially, living frugally or spending too much, doing well (or poorly) with investments, and giving more than a tithe. That record was particularly valuable as we planned for retirement and eventual relocation to another city.
Knowing exactly what you own and how you hold that ownership are both strategic to deciding how you will divide assets among your heirs. For example, items held by contract, such as insurance, can pass on to beneficiaries outside your will and outside probate court.
WHEN is about timing.
And to say it plainly, if you don’t already have an estate plan, the time is now. If you are a parent with dependent children and no legal plan, do you know what will happen if both you and your spouse die suddenly? A state agency will decide who cares for them and how your assets are disbursed.
Every state has statutes that mandate how dependents and assets will be handled if we die intestate, that is without a will or other appropriate estate plan. In life, we have decided under God’s direction how we will use and or not use our assets to care for our families. In death, we should do no less.
HOW is about planning.
A smart estate plan may be as simple as a will and joint ownership bank accounts. Or it may be as complex as multiple trusts and contracts, wills, partnerships, joint ownership agreements, and various investment arrangements.
Your assets, how you hold their ownership, and how you want to disburse those assets after death dictate the simplicity or complexity of your plan. All of us need a will, some of us already have contractual agreements such as insurance, and many of us should consider certain kinds of trusts as part of our estate plan.
The monetary value of what you own does not dictate whether or not you need a legal plan. We all need a plan and if we don’t have one, the state we live in will provide a plan. In Tennessee, for example, if a husband dies intestate (without a will) any property not held in joint ownership with his wife will be divided by thirds: one-third to her and the remaining two-thirds will be divided among his children. Each state has its own unique, and sometimes inequitable, plan.
Finally a few specific recommendations for how to get your plans in order.
Create a will. Free Will Baptist Foundation now has will packets to guide you, and they are free. Ask for them.
Check all your contractual agreements to make certain that appropriate beneficiaries are listed. This includes insurance, notes, retirement plans, IRAs, 401Ks, and others. Remember that you will does not control this agreements, so be certain everything is in good order, according to your wishes.
Review assignment of ownership for bank accounts and other such agreements. For married couples, we prefer joint ownership, but you decide what best serves your goals. Be certain, of course, that you know what the ownership arrangements you make means for your surviving spouse or family member.
Consider establishing a trust or endowment at the Free Will Baptist Foundation for the charitable gifts you want to make at death. David Brown and his staff offer several options that may give you present income along with a tax deduction and then a gift to the organization of your choice at death. Some agreements begin at $1000.
Review and update your plan every three to five years. People, assets, and needs change often.
Organize and file relevant documents and inform the executor of your will, trustee of your trust, and others who might need to know their location. Include will, trust agreements, investment documents and account numbers, insurance (home, life, health), social security numbers and information, retirement plan documents and account numbers, and tax reports for at least two years. (Tax reports are often invaluable to your heirs since they give a composite view of income from investments and other sources.)
Each of us recently served as executor for estates for which legal documents were missing, disorganized, or difficult to locate. Consequently, we are on a campaign to keep our own legal and financial documents filed in clearly marked folders that are accessible to our heirs.
That’s a quick look at avoiding a mess by dealing with who gets what when and how. We’ve promised our sons that we will not leave them in a legal muddle when we die. And we intend to keep that promise.
But about that other mess, that hodge-podge of pure-pack-rat junk, that treasure trove of clutter in our workshop and attic—about that we’ve made no promise and we don’t intend to.
About the Writers: Bill Evans, former director of the Free Will Baptist Foundation, lives in Catlettsburg, KY, with his wife Brenda, a retired English teacher. They are proud grandparents of seven. To learn more planned-giving options offered by the Free Will Baptist Foundation, visit www.fwbgifts.org.