Janel Chin, owner of Peaks and Valleys Legal Services, reflects on the undue pressures placed on her clients, particularly women, who end up with the brunt of stressors related to inadequate or no estate planning on the part of their family members. She offers some good advice for what other estate planning attorneys can do for potential and future clients to ease the burden of dealing with estate planning well before the loss of a loved one. In the following lessons learned and proactive advice from an Estate Planning and Probate Attorney to her clients, Chin emphasizes how having a good plan in place can help keep relationships together in terms of family and the relationship between the estate and its attorney.
When a loved one is lost the resulting grief can be devastating to their family members but there are things that can be done to prevent some of the hassles and heartache. First and foremost is to engage in estate planning prior to death. Unfortunately, estate plans are often neglected or incomplete and after a loved one dies, the importance of finding consensus among as many family members as they move forward cannot be overstated.
In my experience conflict between family members is the number one factor that drives up the amount of time and money spent on probate. The legal fees involved with helping family members reach consensus often exceed the assets that the deceased individual left to those same family members. One of the more common areas of disagreement is the distribution of personal or real property. The burden of inventorying and distributing personal belongings often falls on one or two family members more heavily than others. We already know that women are more likely to take a leave of absence from their job to care for a family member. According to the Pew Research Center, roughly two-thirds (65%) of female family-leave takers say they provided more care for their sick family member than anyone else in the family. In my experience this dynamic translates into post-death arrangements in which the burden tends to fall on female members of a family as well.
To prevent this sort of inequitable unpleasantness I encourage my clients to make sure they have discussed their wishes with their family so that everyone is on the same page regarding who should do what after their death. For instance, they should make sure they consider digital accounts including social media, email and any on-line banking or other accounts.
Cyber-thieves steal identifies of millions of deceased Americans every year and so it is important that a plan is in place for family to efficiently close those accounts after a loved one’s death. I would recommend my clients specifically name someone in their Last Will and Testament to oversee what happens to digital assets so that access to accounts isn’t unnecessarily restricted or delayed. This should include information about how your client would like digital assets handled with an inventory of all other assets and store that information with other important legal documents.
For all of the reasons stated above, daughters, sisters, mothers, nieces or close girlfriends need to make sure there is a well-organized plan for the distribution of personal property for their loved ones. There will always be things to attend to after a death in the family, death certificates must be obtained, bank accounts must be closed but the time, costs and emotional toll taken to distribute an estate can be greatly reduced by an effective estate plan.