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My oldest daughter, Kimberley, died last week after she was struck by a car in Newmarket. She was 51.
Her death was a devastating blow to our family and to everyone who knew her. Although she was profoundly hearing impaired from birth, she learned to speak and to live in a hearing world. She was a strong and caring person who worked tirelessly on behalf of her family, her friends, and for her favourite charity, the Canadian Hearing Society.
She had a great sense of humour and her smile lit up a room.
I write this not seeking sympathy but to remind us all of the fragility of life and how everyone needs to be prepared for the unexpected. A life can be gone in an instant and the fallout is not just emotional but financial. We should all be prepared for the unexpected.
With that in mind, here is a checklist of what you should do today. Not next month, but today.
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Make a will. It’s best to have it drawn up by a lawyer but even a handwritten will that is signed and witnessed will suffice. Be sure it is very clear about how you want your assets to be handled – family, charities, etc. If there is no will, provincial law will dictate who gets what, in ways you may not like. Remember, as long as you have assets you are never too young to have a will. We never know what tomorrow may bring.
Name an executor. This is not something to be done casually. An executor has enormous responsibilities including locating all the assets, applying for insurance policies, preparing a final tax return, paying off debts, and much more. Before you select anyone, talk to him or her about it and make sure that person is willing to take on what can be an arduous task. If you don’t know of anyone suitable, your family lawyer may do it.
Prepare a list of all assets. Don’t leave your loved ones in a position of trying to figure out what you own. Prepare a complete list of all your assets and, where appropriate, include contact information, account numbers, and anything else that will help the executor. For life insurance policies, list the company, the agent and his/her contact number, and the amount of coverage.
Personal items. If there are items that you want certain members of your family to have, such as jewelry, artwork, china, silverware, furniture, or whatever, you can leave a separate letter of instruction or do a codicil to the will itself outlining how you want them distributed.
Access to cash. Your family will need immediate access to money to help cover the funeral arrangements and immediate expenses, like mortgage payments. Insurance money is usually paid quickly but requires the completion of forms and a copy of the death certificate. That may take a couple of weeks so get started right away. By the way, life insurance payments are not taxable in the hands of a beneficiary.
Open a joint account. One way to assure immediate cash is available after a death is to set up a joint bank account with a trusted family member. If anything happens to either of you, the other will have continued access to those funds.
Passwords. There may be information on your electronic devices that family members will need to access information after you are gone. This includes on-line bank accounts, brokerage accounts, etc. Make sure that the executor or a family member has a list of these – including log-on user name and password for the computer or smartphone themselves.
Make your wishes known. Ensure your family knows how you want to be remembered, what kind of service you would like, where you would like to be laid to rest, and anything else of personal importance. Don’t leave them guessing. There will be resistance to having this talk because no one wants to deal with such uncomfortable matters. But if the unexpected does happen, your family will be glad you insisted.
Always remember, it’s always better to leave behind too much information than too little. Hopefully, none of this will be needed for years to come. But if it is required, your family will be grateful.
And yes, Kim did all of these things. That’s the kind of person she was.
Gordon Pape is editor and publisher of the Internet Wealth Builder and Income Investor newsletters.