Two years ago my elderly aunt passed away. At 87 and independent until the very end, she had lived a good life. Since she had no children, I was designated to serve as executor of her estate, which was both enlightening and confusing. Though well organized about most things, she did have stray accounts and funds that had not been accounted for or which perhaps she had forgotten about. It struck me that this is a common situation. With the digital tools now available, we should be able to make this experience easier for those who we’ve asked to handle our affairs after we die.
An estate typically includes a will, trusts, pension plans, 401(k) accounts, IRAs, life insurance policies, powers of attorney, bank accounts, real estate, and other assets accumulated over the course of a lifetime. Information about many of these items are likely to be kept in a folder, desk drawer, safe deposit box, safe, or some other location where your family will hopefully find them upon your passing. Anything that you neglected to include will usually be discovered from statements that will likely continue to be sent even after death. To mark U.S. National Estate Planning Awareness Week, here are a few things to consider.
Most, if not all, documents included in an estate are now digital, which means that more and more of these items no longer generate a paper trail. Though increasing numbers of individuals are managing these assets online, few seem to have created any type of comprehensive system to organize them. This potentially can cause difficulty for loved ones who have the task of settling an estate. The last thing you want is for them to experience frustration, be denied access, or the inability to carry out your wishes for how your estate should be distributed. The solution may be to create a digital folder that lists all your holdings and is located where your family can easily find it.
This kind of system would be especially helpful to nonprofits like the IEEE Foundation. The Goldsmith Legacy League are donors who have set aside a bequest in their wills or named the IEEE Foundation as a beneficiary as a way to benefit future generations of engineers. The group is named for Alfred and Gertrude Goldsmith, whose philanthropic vision seeded the IEEE Foundation. Without the proper documentation, charitable organizations like the Foundation could be overlooked and your loved one’s wishes denied.
You are urged to consult legal and financial advisors whenever considering the establishment of an estate plan, or changes to an existing one. The IEEE Foundation is available to assist you in your efforts. For further information, you may contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stan Retif is the chief development officer with the IEEE Foundation, based in Piscataway, N.J.