I have a confession to make. I have not written my will.
I do not know what is stopping me – not the thought of invincibility because slowly I am finding out the truth and fact of my humanity. Not for lack of knowledge – I have drafted wills for others and other more complicated – and more sober (sobering?) – documents. Not for lack of having given it thought – because I have.
Because writing a will is an emotional exercise and I am not sure if I can handle the enormity of it. It is half love letter, half goodbye letter, transmitting all of your hopes and dreams to people you hope not to leave behind too soon. It is a practical letter, an inventory of your life and what you have accumulated in terms of the material and the familial and the emotional. It has a potential to be controversial, leaving in its wake disappointments and tensions and conflicts that you no longer can put under control. It is a testament to what your life has been, to what you valued and continue to value. It is a last heave before you and your life and your words says caput.
And how do you say goodbye?
Maybe it is not really about saying goodbye but merely putting your affairs into order so that those who will be left behind will be spared the additional grief and expense at your passing. Yes, it is an emotional exercise. But more than that, it is a practical one.
If you (I) can be shaken out of your (my) grief for your (my) own passing, there are some steps that need to be taken according to the book The Everything Wills & Estate Planning Book by Kimberly Colgate:
Step One: Learn the rules
Step Two: Organize your assets
Step Three: Decide who, what and when
Step Four: Choose your planning tools (wills, retirement plans, life insurance, joint property, trusts, annuities, taxes)
Step Five: Implement your plan
One of the hardest, most time consuming and exciting is Step Two. It will tell you a lot of things – what you have accomplished so far and what you have not at this stage of your life (or what others have accomplished for you and what you have done with it so far), give you a clue as to the many (or not so many) man-hours you have put in for material pursuits (or to other more important things), a kind of a slap, if you may, or a wake-up call that can give you a high or serve you the low, giving you a picture of where you are in the financial ladder and an idea of where you want to go, maybe producing a cathartic effect or not.
Despite what I said, though, Step Two is not romantic. It is just the cold, hard facts of the inventory of your life. Here is what needs to be put down on your Asset Inventory Worksheet:
1. Personal information – name, spouse’s name, citizenship, date of birth, names of children (with date of birth)
2. Financial Assets – with proof of ownership (photocopy), if possible:
a. personal residence – address, in whose names, mortgaged? (balance if any), approximate fair market value
b. other personal residences or vacation homes (need the same information as above)
c. personal/household effects (include jewelry, heirloom, antiques, art/paintings, collection and their values)
d. cash and cash deposits – banks where held, account numbers, balances (savings, checking, Certificate of Deposits, T-bills, and similar instruments)
3. Life Insurance Policies – face amount of policy, cash value, beneficiaries (include all, including term and group life insurance); list down the life insurance policy information on the spouse, if any
4. Business interests – indicate participation (active, director, etc.) and approximate value of company
5. Investments – stocks, bonds, notes, other interests (where held, amount, etc.)
6. Liabilities – debts
7. In case there are minor children, who can be the possible guardians (at least 3) – must be healthy, younger than you and your spouse, share your values
8. Executor – one who will administer the will (and sub-executor or plan B in case chosen executor predeceases you)
List down the above, put them in order and make some decisions (as to the guardians and the executor) before you see a lawyer or plan your plan. This way, you will have an idea of what you have or where you want to go when you sit before a professional. It will make matters easier – for you and the professional.
While you are at it, here are some resources around the internet that will get you started on your estate planning:
All of us will be walking that road, others sooner than later. Most people would prefer not to look but in not looking, they do not know that they might be doing themselves – and the people they love – a disfavor.
Yes, hesitate. Yes, take your time. But do not take too long.
Article by Issa. Art by D. Copyright 2010.
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