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Estate Planning – It’s Never Too Early

Estate Planning - Jose and FerminaWe spent most of last Friday driving from North Carolina to Miami, Florida. That was a 15 hour butt numbing drive with a few stops for food and recirculation (of the legs and behinds). Unfortunately, this wasn’t a leisure trip. I was in  Miami last October to start some Estate planning my parents and was going back to wrap up on some key items.

We spent several hours Saturday morning at Bank of America where my parents keep their checking and savings account. I wanted to get several things done, getting online access to their checking account was critical. They no longer keep track of their expenses, bills or income, so I’m doing that for them. The next  item  was taking a somewhat substantial amount that they had in savings and gifting it to family members that could be trusted to hold the money in reserve should they ever need it. Although I’m not a big fan of BofA and their exorbitant fees,  I’ll give the staff kudos, they were courteous and helpful to the nth degree in helping us get everything done.

Saturday afternoon was spent going through piles of old paperwork they had forgotten they had. Finding a deed to the property they live in was the first challenge, luckily I found that about an hour into the search. I also found account statements over twenty years old for various IRA’s. I’ll have to spend some time in the next few weeks tracking their accounts down and making them productive for my parents again.

Some of the more interesting things I found were their immigration and naturalization documents from the early sixties. The pictures on them were amazing, I plan on framing those documents someday. It’s at this point where I think I started getting a little emotional. It’s difficult enough seeing you parents age and decline in their capabilities. They were the pillars of strength that guided me through my  childhood and into adulthood.

I’m not ashamed to say that seeing these pictures of them in their prime, having left Cuba to avoid the political nightmare they knew was coming choked me up some. Hey, I’m latin so it’s ok for me to be emotional! Once I finished with the documents I stopped for the day and thought I would capture some of the thoughts that have been crossing my mind today to share with you.

It’s never too early to start Estate Planning. There are the obvious things that need to be done. Will’s, gifting and trusts are all important aspects of estate planning that need to be considered as part of any estate planning activity. But what about the less obvious and easier to forget things that are just as important? Deeds, Titles for vehicles and other important documents should all be safeguarded and someone (other than the owner) should know where they are.  A complete list of financial accounts should be put together and kept somewhere safe, probably along with the other documents. It can be in a safety deposit box, a safe or kept with a trusted individual. But you should have a complete list of important documents, that’s kept up to date and in a place where it can be easily be found.

This doesn’t only apply to elderly or ageing parents. Anyone with a household to maintain needs to think about this as well. Should the worse happen; will your survivors know where to find these documents? Will they be able to find and take actions on your finances and related accounts? Although it’s not a pleasant subject, your family needs to know or have access to this information.

In case you’re wondering, it’s not all grim business while we’re down here. We’ve had a chance to spend some time with my parents. My wife and I are taking a day and a half to go to Key Largo for a little down time together (15 hour drives together don’t count as downtime), And we plan on getting in a set of dives while in Key Largo, she’ll be finishing her advance open water certification with those dives! Here’s one other very pleasant (for us) fact. We escaped the weather! I’m running around in shorts, it’s a 77 degree sunny day and it’s snowing back home!

We’ll be back in Miami Monday night and have an appointment with an estate lawyer Tuesday to discuss Asset protection trusts. If they make sense for my parents, we’ll start the process of getting one in place You can expect another post soon on the balance of our “Estate Planning” trip. Oh, and in case your wondering, that is a picture of my mom and dad, Jose Sr and Fermina.

Do you have any stories or experiences related to estate planning? Please share them with us, I’d definitely be interested in hearing from you on this.

A parting thought, here’s a tip for anyone visiting Miami: Don’t park your car underneath pretty trees. When we went to the car this morning we found that it had been decorated in a rainbow variety of Poop. Bug poop, bird poop, even tree poop and some other unidentifiable substances were scattered all over the car, merrily eating their way into the paint! Needless to say, a car wash was on our to do list today.

Related Post:

Estate Planning and Asset Protection Introduction

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John Schmoll is a Dad, husband and veteran of the financial services industry. He's passionate about helping people learn from his mistakes so that they can live lives free from the shackles of debt and empowered to make their money work for them. You can check out his other sites: Frugal Rules, for ways to improve your financial literacy; and Sprout Wealth for tips on different ways to make more money. John has been featured on Forbes, Lifehacker, Yahoo Finance and US News & World Report and more. If you're wanting to grow your blog, check out my blog coaching services to see how I can help you take your site to the next level.

20 comments

  1. I’ve made that NC-to-South Florida drive – it’s WAY longer than you’d ever imagine it to be!

    From an estate planning point of view, I am very fortunate that my parents are on top of it, just like my grandparents before them. My husband and I have some good role models!

    • It seems to get longer everytime we drive it! The worse was the drive back yesterday. We watched the thermometer on the dashboard creep lower and lower the further north we got!

  2. My wife and I did our estate planning a few years ago and one thing we found out early on was that our house wasn’t deeded to both of us, which means that I would have to go through probate to get my house back in the event I would ever pass away. Kind of a scary thought really so we got that changed around for a small fee and got everything squared away.

  3. We did our estate planning several years ago now that we have three kids, we had two at the time. It’s not “sexy”, but it’s something that’s vital in most situations. If something were to happen and you did not have the appropriate things set up it would create a massive headache for those left behind.

    • I need to update ours, things change in even a year or two and keeping it up to date is important. I know of a couple who’s husband died unexpectedly. They had not planned adequately and everything, even the house went into probate. It has taken her over a year to get things corrected and in her name. She even had to buy his car back from the estate!

  4. I can only imagine the courage it would take to leave a country, under the threat of such great danger as existed (and continues to exist) in communist Cuba, for an entirely new country and life. Awesome story.

    • It is, it’s something I took for granted for many years. They were lucky and got out before the regime took over. My uncle wasn’t, he spent 20 years in prison for being a political dissident. My other Uncle actually fought With Castro and when he saw what was happening, hopped in a small boat with a few freinds and putt putted over to the U.S. After stopping off in Jamaica for some fun (true story). He’s the crazier one in the bunch.

  5. I have a will, my mother probably doesn’t, and I know my grandparents don’t. They are 85 and have just finished getting the last piece of estate from the great grandparents sold and shared between 7 siblings, it was a big mess for years. And now they act like they will never die, and have 7 children of their own. Not only will it be a siblings war but also they are not optimizing the taxes so they won’t pass on as much as they could. My mother is angry with them but repeating the same story. I don’t care about what I get, I am just annoyed if the government gets it.

    • Pauline, I’m with you. When it comes to inheritance I don’t care who gets what as long as the government gets as little as possible. It’s a shame to see families fall apart over inheritances, it’s like dogs fighting over a bone!

  6. Man, good for you on grabbing the reins. Sadly, everyone waits until too late to actually think about what can go wrong. I’m glad you got to get some down time. With all that hassle, I’ll bet you need it!

    • I just wish we were ahead of the curve and started this a lot earlier. It seems to go downhill really quick in a short period of time. Btween making sure they are taking the right meds to handling the finances it can be wearying. My brother is handling the medical aspect of it and I’m handling the finances. I don’t know which is worse! We did get a nice break in Key Largo, got to dive the Duane, a nice wreck with tons of sealife. There’s a long funny story there, our captain ran over the mooring buoy and tangled up the prop. After that got cut loose she made a go for another mooring buoy and then got tangled up in what was left of the rope from the first one! This in 8-10 foot seas! But the dive was absolutely worth it.

  7. This is something that we’ve been delaying for far too long. We don’t have any children, but if something would happen to me I’m not sure if my wife would know where all of the life insurance plans are kept. It’s not a pleasant thing to think about, but it’s going to happen one way or the other so I suppose it’s best to be prepared.

    • I kno, As important as I know it is it’s something I’m pretty bad at doing. I need to get my “Death letter” (sounds horrible, but that’s what it is) Up to date and in a safe place that my wife knows about.

  8. I’m guilty of completely NOT planning for events after my death. I hate thinking about it – it feels so morbid and I get creeped out and anxious at the thought. I know it’s something we’ll have to do one day…

  9. Of all the matters pertaining to personal finance, estate planning is most likely the easiest to procrastinate. I’m as guilty as anyone in that respect.

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