dont leave your will in your couch and other important year end planning advice

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Singer Aretha Franklin gave great advice about “respect,” but wasn’t so strong when it came to financial and legacy planning. The Queen of Soul’s sons recently concluded a five-year legal battle over her estate when a handwritten will was found between some couch cushions after her passing, and an earlier version had been found locked in a cabinet. 

Unfortunately, leaving loved ones to sort out important estate details, and causing them extra grief, money and time, as well as an uncertain outcome, is not particular to Franklin — it is something with which far too many families contend. 

As the creator of the Future File legacy and wishes planning system (based on a file my father left for my sister and me before his untimely passing), I have seen the difference in outcomes when families plan well and when they don’t. Here’s a few tips to make sure that your family is firmly in the camp of the former. 

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Get your documents professionally completed and reviewed 

Franklin’s heirs took five years and likely incurred a ton of expenses to recognize the validity of her hand-written, couch-stored will.  

Families should take a lesson from Aretha Franklin. She left not one, but two wills. The result meant a family battle that lasted five years. (iStock)

You can avoid the same fate with your loved ones by having an estate planning attorney professionally complete your will and other important estate planning documents. These professionals will ensure that you are complying with all the necessary requirements of whatever state or states your assets are located.  

You may think that doing this yourself will save a few bucks, but it is a penny-wise, pound-foolish endeavor that will likely end up costing your loved ones even more to untangle. 

Make sure that your loved ones can find the documents 

A big part of the confusion for Aretha Franklin’s heirs was that there was no clear location for her will. Even with clarity, between couch cushions is not an ideal storage location, either. Having a legacy planning system that your loved ones can find and easily access in a time of need ensures they have access to the specific information they need and that you had set forth for them. 

Whether it is the will, powers of attorney, listings of important contact information, such as financial advisors, copies of personal identification documents, copies of insurance beneficiary forms or other important documents, you should store them in a legacy and wishes planning system, like our Future File system, or in another secure location.  

If you do the latter, make sure you include information on how to access such documents, including any documents stored on your computer or online, in your legacy and wishes planning system. 

This will save your loved ones potentially hundreds of hours of time, as well as a lot of grief and money, with easy access to key documents and critical information. 

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Don’t forget to share your personal wishes, too 

Families often fight not only over asset-related issues, but just about everything else when someone passes away. As grief is unpredictable, emotions often spill over to create drama about everything from how and where someone will be laid to rest, to who gets small items of sentimental but not financial value. 

Being clear about your wishes with everything from social media accounts to who gets the family-favorite Christmas ornament will help your loved ones tremendously in a great time of need. 

You can avoid the same fate with your loved ones by having an estate planning attorney professionally complete your will and other important estate planning documents. These professionals will ensure that you are complying with all the necessary requirements of whatever state or states your assets are located.  

If you can, have a family meeting to go over these details so your family members can weigh in and not be surprised by the decisions made (a legacy and wishes planning system provides a great roadmap to help guide such a discussion).  

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Plus, some decisions involve others, such as if family members want to be buried near each other, for example, so having everyone with a stake adding their perspective will help provide a better outcome to a difficult situation. 

Nobody wants their loved ones to spend years and tons of money wrapping up an estate. It’s a waste of time, money and resources, it keeps them in their grieving periods, and it adds extra stress to an already burdensome situation. The more you can prepare in advance, the easier it will be for your family to cope with a very difficult time whenever that may come. 

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