I will not belabor the point: It costs far less time and money to fix things while you are alive than after your passing. I cannot tell you the number of estate cases I have personally fielded that simultaneously frustrated and burdened beneficiaries and padded my own wallet with no real necessity to do this from the beneficiary side.
Here are some things you can do to pass more money to your beneficiaries and less to the attorney administering to your estate:
- STOCK CERTIFICATES: Yes, these still exist. Some stocks may have split, some may have been merged into another company, some certificates may be lost or not in a convenient place for your beneficiaries to find them. Transfer these to brokerage houses and convert them into electronic format.
- 3rd PARTY ADMINISTRATOR ACCOUNTS: If you own stock outside of a brokerage house you may own it directly at the 3rd party company that typically holds the actual stock. I could write an entire blog about how frustrating certain TPAs can be and could also call them out by name, but my experience is that they could care less (or worse for me, may sue me for defamation). Move these directly to a brokerage house: The account fees you save by holding stock at a TPA are typically eaten up by legal fees charged to procure the stock after you pass away.
- CHANGES TO YOUR REAL ESTATE: Have you added an additional bathroom or kitchen to your house? Or a pool or deck in the backyard? If you did not get your town’s authority to do so, your beneficiaries will have to. This is typically done once the real estate is in contract, which holds back the closing date, thereby increasing the time to pay real estate taxes. Perhaps you inconveniently erected a fence 6 inches onto your neighbor’s property? This unintentional land grab will have the same result: Delayed transference of the property, and possibly unhappy neighbors (though whether you care from the grave remains to be seen).
- CASH / PERSONAL PROPERTY / BONDS / ETC. IN HIDDEN PLACES: Hidden property, such as physical cash or family jewelry, is both waiting to be found (or lost) or stolen. The former leads to frustration, the latter leads to family consternation and court battles. NOTHING delays an estate’s distribution like a case in a courthouse. Keep your physical cash at home minimal.
- “LOST” FAMILY MEMBERS: If your probate estate has assets available, the court requires you to place your closest family members on notice upon your passing. If you are estranged from family members or your choice of beneficiaries in your will, or if your executor cannot be found, the court may appoint an attorney to represent them. And when you hear the words (1) court, (2) attorney, (3) doing stuff, those all mean time and money. Keep information that can help your future beneficiaries and attorney identify and find estranged family members.