Do you recall that Prince died without a will? Other famous people have died without a will. You may not have an extensive or complicated estate, but planning for what will happen after your death is important. Those affected by a death without a will often say the person was planning to make a will but never got around to it.
Estate planning goes beyond a will. When looking for articles on estate planning, I found advice on steps you can take to ease the process of passing assets on to those you want to have them. (This article is not legal advice.)
Inventory your valuables
Think beyond monetary value to include sentimental value. As you do so, consider who may want a particular item and include the person’s name on your inventory. This includes your home, vehicles, land and the “everyday items” that represent memories or are of significance to a person, such as using tools together, cooking together, jewelry, or stories of family history connected to an item.
List your accounts
The list may be longer than you think. Bank accounts, life insurance policies, savings bonds, CDs and income – not only your job but also Social Security; a company, government or military pension; 401(k), etc. As you make the list or gather documents, include contact information for each.
Review the beneficiaries identified on your accounts
Make sure the information is up to date. Is there an ex-spouse on an account or a deceased person or did you leave that item blank for a decision later? Contact the business if you need to update the documents. Talk to the expert at the business to understand what your beneficiaries need to present upon your death for the transfer. For savings bonds, if you have not already done so, see TreasuryDirect.gov to name a second person on the bond.
With the proper designations, assets can transfer without probate.
List your debts
Even if there are no current debt or loans, include a list of credit cards. Know what is needed to close an account or to remove a name upon death.
Consider family needs
Is a guardian needed for young children? Do you have the right amount and type of life insurance?
Document medical wishes
This column in the June 12 Albuquerque Journal included extensive information on documenting your wishes for end-of-life care.
Make a will
Everyone over the age of 18 should have a will. Put the will in a safe place and give a copy of your documents to the person you identified as the executor of the estate. Make appropriate people aware of where the will is located.
If there is no will, the intestate succession law will apply.
Spouse, no children, spouse will inherit.
Children, no spouse, children will inherit.
Spouse and children, law provides the split in inheritance.
New Mexico does not have a state inheritance or estate tax.
Make funeral plans
Talk to your family about your wishes. Contact the organization that will be handling your funeral. Know the costs and how it will be paid.
Identify a charity that mourners can consider sending a donation in your name.
Things family needs to consider
Number of certified death certificates needed will depend on the list of assets and accounts. Some institutions will want certified death certificates, while others will accept a copy. Needing to request an additional certified death certificate later could delay transfers.
If there are survivor benefits on retirement income, establish tax withholding.
Writing an obituary can be a challenge. It can also help with the mourning process. Consider how to involve family in the process. During a time of stress, no one can remember all the important points to include.
Probate is the court process to obtain the legal authority to act on behalf of the estate of a person who has died, officially known as the decedent.
The estate is distributed according to the decedent’s will or, if the decedent did not have a will, according to New Mexico’s laws of intestate succession. The probate court appoints legally qualified persons, called personal representatives, to manage and settle the decedent’s affairs. Personal representatives distribute the assets in a decedent’s estate to the rightful recipients. These might include heirs, devisees named in a valid and current will, or creditors. For more information, go to bernco.gov/probate-court/welcome-to-the-court/.
There is also free legal help for seniors 55 and older from the State Bar of New Mexico by calling 1-800-876-6657 and online at sbnm.org/For-Public/I-Need-a-Lawyer/Legal-Resources-for-the-Elderly.