It’s Halloween. What better time to think about the spooky, almost scary things that will happen after you die. There, I said it. I am going to die. We all know that it is inevitable. We want to make plans to make it easier on our loved ones (well, most people do). So why is it so difficult to ponder, prepare or finish the race by actually taking action to prepare?
Trick or treat. The treat in Colorado is that there is no inheritance tax or estate tax. The trick is avoiding long, drawn out probate. Why avoid probate? Time and money. There is nothing simple about asking a total stranger to figure out your intentions. That is what is triggered when you die without automatic transfers and a will. Depending on the ease of finding heirs and debt, it may take two years to settle and will rack up the fees for attorneys, investigators, court costs and attorneys fees. You tried to leave a little something for your loved ones and it goes into the state coffers to settle your estate. Not good planning.
Not scary enough for you? Last week, Eagle County Healthy Aging hosted a presentation called Death by Chocolate. It was an opportunity to begin the paperwork associated with your death. Maybe it was the chocolate (melting over fruit, pound cake, vanilla wafers and pretzels), but more than 30 Mid-Valley senior residents attended, some with their family members. There were a lot of good questions posed about what needs to go through probate, resources for cremation and burial, required formats of will (handwritten, witnessed, etc.), plans for our furry friends and financial transfers upon death. As if planning wasn’t frightfully difficult enough, now there are “green” burials and ways to turn remains into diamonds. I am learning that diamonds can literally be a girl’s best friend – OK that IS scary!
What became clear is that we need to address these issues, desires and required planning. Now. No, not when you have a chance or have more time (wishful thinking). We need to make this a priority, now!
A couple of not-so-creepy steps you can take regarding assets (money) that will not need to go through your will (or a search for it). Setting up your financial accounts with a beneficiary makes it VERY clear who gets what when you leave this earth. POD (payable on death) savings and checking accounts are a no-brainer. So are stocks and securities that are TOD (transferred on death). Name your beneficiary today (and yes, these can be changed as your “circumstances” change) and they may present an ID and death certificate to inherit your goodies. Colorado also allows a TOD registration for your vehicle, making is easy for your baby to find a new home/garage. Finally, Colorado is a TOD deed state as well (love that we are in a progressive state). So you may set up your home to transfer upon your death to your favorite friend or family member – think of how well they will treat you knowing this – they may even help you with some of those repairs!
Typical beneficiary-named accounts include life insurance, IRA’s and 401Ks. The trick is to make sure the beneficiary you named 30 years ago is still in your good graces and can be found (update their contact information). One attendee at the presentation told the story about a policy that had found them 13 years after their family members passed away. Lesson learned is having a list of your accounts that is easily found is also a good idea. Revocable living trusts are also another option that one may consider. They are a little more complicated and vary from state to state on minimums required, but may provide, privacy, peace of mind and avoid that terrifying probate process.
There is no magic to being prepared for the inevitable. Take the time to avoid misunderstandings, disappointment and unnecessary toil and trouble.
I hope this column gives you pause and an opportunity to discuss your wishes with your close friends and family. This is not meant to substitute for good financial or legal advice and instead recommends that you stop in for a spell with your favorite professional. It is obvious, from the attendance at Death By Chocolate that end-of-life plans are on the minds of many of us in the Roaring Fork Valley. We will ask the senior programs for more community presentations on unearthed concerns such as wills and estates, resources in the Roaring Fork Valley, Five Wishes living wills, Everplans (storage of important documents), electronic legacies (passwords), the effect of reduced mental capacity on making plans and how our county lines and limited local professionals may affect your after-death travel. See, I did take notes.
Happy Halloween! I hope your future is crawling with preparation, peace of mind, respect and dignity.
Mary Kenyon has worked on the Pitkin County Aging Well Plan initiatives for the past five years and is the new Roaring Fork Valley Director of A Little Help. She is passionate about identifying issues and resources for seniors in the Valley. Email her your challenges and suggested solutions at email@example.com.