Estate plans now will save hassles later

Published 7:00 pm Sunday, January 30, 2011

I’m far from a legal expert, but serving as executor for tworelatives’ estates has given me a few insights into how to handleaffairs for the living and the late.

My service as executor for my aunt Carrie, who died in December2008, is for the most part done except for the disbursement of somesmall monetary assets. I’m still dealing with a variety of estatematters for my father, who died in December 2009, and I can onlyhope they wrap up soon.

For the living, my first bit of advice is to have a willprepared. It doesn’t have to be an elaborate document, but itshould be sufficient to state what you want done with your “stuff”after you’re gone.

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A phrase to remember here could be, “If there’s a doubt, spellit out.”

What I mean by that is if there’s some cherished family heirloomor some other personal item that you want a certain someone tohave, then signify that in the will. Doing so now will go a longway toward avoiding squabbles or resulting hard feelings amongsurvivors who all may want to lay claim to a specific item.

On this point, in the interest of full disclosure, I must admitto so far not having practiced what I preach. Preparing my will,though, is at the top of my list once I’m through with my executorduties.

As with all legal documents, having a will witnessed and signedis important. That also goes for a codicil, which is like anaddition to a will.

My aunt hand-wrote a codicil, which designated certain items shewanted her friends, relatives and me to have. However, it was notwitnessed.

As such, as executor, I had to track down a non-relative witnessto verify the codicil’s writing was my aunt’s. We all recognized itwas, but the verification process cost some extra time andattorney’s fees.

Speaking of attorneys, the estate planning variety really wouldhave come in handy several years before my father died. A relatedaspect of that is children having full knowledge of their parents’financial dealings and standings.

I realize this is difficult information to obtain, because manyparents could see the inquiries as “meddling” by their children andothers may not want to face the possibility of becoming dependenton their offspring.

Not to share too much family business, but I failed in thisregard with my father. In the years since my mother died, I had aninkling of debt problems, but I did not learn the full extent untila few months before he passed.

On top of that was his declining health that led to repeatedtrips to and stays in the hospital. Eventually, his conditionrequired a stay in a nursing home and our application for Medicaidassistance.

That was a paperwork nightmare I wouldn’t wish on anybody.

The day after Dad died, we received the letter stating we hadbeen rejected for Medicaid, partly due to lack of documentationrelated to money Dad received after selling his interest in someinherited land. Knowing his involvement with that property earlierlikely would have given us a better chance of being approved.

Being executor for my aunt and my father has been almost a studyin extremes.

Aunt Carrie basically did not believe in credit cards, so payingoff what small balances there were was pretty simple and pain-free.Dad appeared to live off of them, so waiting to see what companieswould file claims against the estate was a nervous time.

An attorney at the law firm where my aunt used to work hashandled well her estate matters for me. The attorney was familiarwith much of my aunt’s affairs, so being executor was fairly smoothsailing.

My brother and I found an attorney to help us with Dad’sMedicaid issues. After that became moot, he’s now leading us as weaddress some complicated estate business and a dispute overproperty ownership from a third party.

My bottom line point in all this is that proper planning andsharing of wishes and desires now will save a lot of headache andhassle later. The living then will have a little easier road aheadwhile grieving for their late loved one.

That’s all for now.

Write to Matthew Coleman at P.O. Box 551, Brookhaven MS39602, or send e-mail to