Addressing End of Life Issues

I am often called when a client is nearing death or has passed away. I am usually asked specific questions regarding the first steps in the administration of a trust or an estate. I set forth below some things to consider regarding End of Life issues for yourself or for a loved one.

What Medical Care Do You Want? You can sign an Advance Directive for Health Care in which you appoint an agent to make medical decisions for you in case you become unable to make or communicate such decisions yourself. You can also state what your wishes are regarding specific life-sustaining procedures, nutrition, hydration, and pain medication.

Many of my clients speak openly with their loved ones and named agents about the decisions they want made if they are in a coma or are terminally ill and unable to make decisions. Some of my clients, understandably, have a difficult time talking about what they want to have happen. It is not an easy thing to discuss, but it is vital that you discuss those wishes with the person(s) you have authorized to act on your behalf.

Do you want to be Buried? If you think talking about your medical decisions is difficult to discuss, try talking about death! Yet, the first question I usually receive is: did Mom or Dad want to be buried or cremated? In California, the person with the legal authority to make that decision is your agent under your Advance Health Care Directive.

Sometimes family members cannot agree on what a person wanted done with his or her remains. One may believe that the decedent wanted to be buried, another understood the choice to be cremation. Avoid this conflict by being open with your family about what you want and having those wishes written down in your Advance Health Care Directive. You may even wish to have a prepaid burial or cremation plan so that your loved ones do not have to worry about what to do after you’re gone.

Do You Have Religious or Spiritual Needs? Does your family know what your wishes are regarding your religious or spiritual needs during a period of illness? Do you wish to have members of your church or synagogue informed of your health and to visit you? Would you find particular readings or music helpful?

Funeral or Memorial Service? If you were to pass away, would you want a funeral or memorial service held for you? Have you thought about how you would like to be remembered? Do you have music, songs, readings, or other things that are important to be included in the service? You may be surprised how important your personal wishes for these matters become to those who survive you.

Death Certificates – Be prepared to order from the mortuary a certified copy of the death certificate for each financial institution, parcel of real property, and retirement plan that was owned by the decedent. You will likely need to use them for handling those assets after his or her death.

Other Important Details to Share – Spending a few minutes completing an information list and sharing it with your loved ones could save them time and headaches after you’re gone.

Some examples:

  • Military Service. Set forth your discharge information, service number, and other important details of your military service in your Estate Planning Portfolio so your Successor Trustee can use it to access governmental benefits for you.
  • Social Security Number. Where can your SSN be found? Your Successor Trustee or Executor will need to notify the Social Security Administration (call 800-772-1213) after your death. Social Security payments are halted and may be reclaimed if paid after the date of death. The number will also be needed to apply for a new taxpayer identification number after your death.
  • Safe Deposit Box. Who is able to open your safe deposit box if you are gone? Does your Successor Trustee know where you keep the key to the box and which financial institution and branch the box is located? This is particularly important if you have kept your Will, car title, and property deeds in your safe deposit box because your Successor Trustee or Executor will need to have access to those documents.
  • Real Property Records. In order to properly administer an estate, the Successor Trustee or Executor needs to know how title to your real property is held. You should keep a copy of your trust transfer deeds in your Estate Planning Portfolio with the original in your safe deposit box. You should also keep a copy of any Full Reconveyance issued by your lender after you have paid off that mortgage.
  • Insurance Policies. You can prevent a delay in obtaining life insurance proceeds by your loved ones if you let them know where the original life insurance policy is kept. It is a good idea to keep the original policy in your safe deposit box. Your Estate Planning Portfolio contains a place in the front data section to identify your policies by issuer, policy number, face amount, and designated beneficiaries. Life insurance passes outside of your Trust or Will.
  • Bank and Brokerage Accounts. Does your Successor Trustee or Executor know where your monthly statements can be found for all your investment, checking, savings, certificates of deposit accounts? Are all of your bank accounts registered in the name of your trust?
  • Immediate Need for Cash. It may be helpful to keep a sum of money in cash and available so that your loved ones can make the necessary arrangements for you without being required to spend their own money out of pocket and then need to seek reimbursement from your trust or estate. The amount of cash available should be enough to cover burial or cremation and incidental costs during the time before the Successor Trustee is able to access your financial accounts. More money is needed if there is a probate on account of the amount of time required before a Court will issue Letters Testamentary, appointing an Executor of your estate.