Sprucing Up Your Estate Plan
(Note: the following article by Gary Kish, OHS Director of Development, appeared in the Winter 2011 issue of the OHS Magazine).
Gifts from estates of dedicated supporters have nurtured OHS over the years. These gifts have helped OHS thrive and grow into one of America’s most respected humane societies.
Most estate gifts pass to OHS without any problems, whether donors use wills or trusts. We have, however, encountered a number of situations where the gift did not come to OHS as easily as the donor intended. The following are a few memorable examples. If you plan to leave assets to OHS at your death, thank you. The staff at OHS, and all of the incredible animals that we care for, appreciate your generosity. You may want to analyze whether your estate plan has any of these potential pitfalls.
Anyone seen my will?
In Oregon, not having an original will to submit to the probate court can cause big problems. If the original will cannot be found, a number of challenges may be brought to invalidate the legitimacy of the photocopied (or scanned) document.
If someone successfully contests the validity of the copy, your estate may pass to family members according to statutory rules of succession instead of your chosen beneficiaries; the careful planning you’ve done via your will may be nullified.
Thesolution? Make sure your personal representative and your beneficiaries know where to find the original will. Whether it’s at your attorney’s office, in a bank’s safety-deposit box, or secured in a home safe.
Inform those you trust of the original will’s location and, if you store the will in a safety-deposit box or safe, be sure to tell the personal representative (and/or family members) where the key is.
Your personal representative. Ready, willing ... Not.
When drafting your will, you are creating a plan that may not be executed for years (hopefully decades). Individuals nominated to serve as personal representatives (or executors) are often unable to fulfill their role when the time comes. They may be in poor health, have moved to a distant location, died, or become otherwise incapacitated.
The solution? Name a series of people to serve as successor representatives. You might also consider naming the trust department of a reliable financial institution as your personal representative. Check-in with the person(s) nominated to serve as fiduciaries to confirm that they are agreeable to serving this important role. Have your documents updated when significant things happen in your life like marriage, divorce, births and deaths of family members, buying or selling of a business, retirement, or moving residency.
Hard to discover assets.
The personal representative’s chief responsibilities are to gather assets, pay off debts and then make distributions as dictated by your will. Gathering all the assets, or marshaling the assets as it’s known, can be difficult if there is no guidance about where these assets are to be found. Maintaining accurate records can save your estate legal and accounting fees after you are gone. These records can also stop contests and lawsuits before they begin.
One asset class that is consistently difficult to account for is employee benefits earned many decades ago. If you have these pension-type assets, be sure to keep accurate records. The corporation you worked for may have merged, changed plan custodians, or otherwise altered the plan benefits. Benefit statements about life insurance may not be mailed to you directly, adding to the difficulty trying to track these policies down decades after they were earned.