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What To Do When You Have Nothing To Do
By Bernard A. Krooks, Certified Elder Law Attorney
Due to the current pandemic, many of us have much more time on our hands than we are used to. After all, we are not getting up early to go to the gym, not rushing to get to the office or getting stuck in traffic, and not going to whatever evening activities we used to go to. Thus, it’s quite possible that more than a few of us have plenty of free time on our hands and perhaps are even getting a little bored (after all, how much Netflix can we actually watch!). So, we thought we would give you some ideas on how to pass the time. Some of these things might have even been on your to-do list for quite some time. While we hope the world never gets shut down like this again, why not take some time to take care of something really important but seems to always get pushed to the backburner: getting your affairs in order. One thing we have learned from recent events is that we have absolutely no control over the future, however, we do have control over whether we are prepared. So, if you have been working on an estate plan, complete it and get organized so that, if/when the time comes, your loved ones know your wishes and can easily carry them out. If you don’t yet have an estate plan, then there is no better time than now to cross this off your list. Here are some helpful tips:
1. If you have an estate plan, review your plan to make sure it is up to date and reflects your current wishes. Dust off your documents (hopefully, you know where they are), read them, make sure you understand how they work. Check to ensure that the location of the originals is clearly noted: that your beneficiaries (including charities) and family members are correctly identified; and that signatures and initials (yours, witnesses’, and the notary’s) are in proper places and can be read. Consider whether you want to make changes. (For instance, does your health-care directive say anything about ventilators or machines that provide breathing assistance? Do you still feel the same way now that you know ventilators are key to Covid-19 treatment?)
2. If you have a trust, make sure it is properly funded. You should review deeds, bank account titles, and beneficiary designations to ensure they are up to date.
3. Understand what assets are covered by your Will and what assets pass by operation of law such as joint bank accounts. Consider whether your estate may require a probate proceeding. Check bank and brokerage titles and beneficiary designations to ensure they are up to date.
4. Make sure your estate plan properly addresses your tangible personal property such as jewelry, art, collectibles, family memorabilia, etc., and other personal property. We have seen many multi-million-dollar estates get hung up in the probate process because brother and sister could not agree on who gets dad’s watch and dad did not make his wishes clear in his estate planning documents.
5. Make sure that your funeral/burial wishes are known. If you have purchased a prepaid plan (smart), make sure that the paperwork can be found. This will make things a lot easier for your loved ones when the time comes.
6. Make a list of who you would you want contacted or who might need to be contacted in an emergency or at your death. People who should be on the list might include family, friends, tax preparer, clergy, estate planning attorney, financial advisor, veterinarian, etc.
7. Make sure the people you have appointed to manage your affairs in the event of your incapacity/death are still appropriate and available to serve. Have a conversation with them to make sure that they still want to serve in the capacity that you are requesting.
8. Prepare a list of all financial accounts, credit cards, insurance policies; income sources, including government benefits; outstanding loans owed to or by you. List the institution, type of account, contact number, approximate balance/amount of income and frequency. If there’s online access, make sure to note the username and password. Indicate whether you get statements by email and whether any payments, coming in or going out, are auto-pay.
9. Prepare a list of all non-financial online accounts, including Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, and other social media, including username and passwords. Consider whether the account has a policy regarding death of the account holder and decide whether to act on it.
10. Get rid of all your junk. You do NOT need to retain all bank statements, pay stubs, utility bills, etc. for your entire lifetime. Do your loved ones a huge favor: purge and shred.
Once you finish with the above list, maybe it will be time to go back to the gym, the office or get stuck in traffic. I, for one, will be ready!
Bernard A. Krooks, Esq., is a founding partner of Littman Krooks LLP and has been honored as one of the “Best Lawyers” in America for each of the last seven years. He is past President of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA) and past President of the New York Chapter of NAELA. Mr. Krooks has also served as chair of the Elder Law Section of the New York State Bar Association. He has been selected as a “New York Super Lawyer” since 2006. Mr. Krooks may be reached at (914-684-2100) or by visiting the firm’s website at www.elderlawnewyork.com.