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By Liza Horvath


The Forgotten Details of Estate Planning


At a certain time of life people begin to focus their attention on getting their estate planning done. Maybe there was a recent health scare, the birth of a baby or a close scrape that galvanized you to think about your “stuff” and what you want done with it after you are gone. The planning process can be arduous and has the tendency to make us face things we would really rather not – but out of necessity we force ourselves to do the planning.


Most estate planning choices revolve around who gets what and who will be the executor, trustee or named guardian of minor children. Unfortunately, while this planning is good, oftentimes there is an entire part of planning that is not adequately considered or addressed. 


The clients of most estate lawyers are fit and healthy and death is, presumably, a long time away. Because “the event” is not imminent, what should happen in the hours and days immediately after death is often left undiscussed. Our documents may instruct an agent to arrange for cremation or we may preplan with a funeral home – but most children, spouses, partners or friends are ill-equipped to deal with the many details that need to be tended to immediately after death.


Consider this, the person you have named as your representative – your agent – has received a call in the middle of the night that you have passed away. What should he do? Hopefully, a discussion between you and your agent will have taken place long before the call, but many times it has not.


The first question your agent will need an answer to is, “Who will be picking up the body?”  If he knows you have made prearrangements, he can simply call for the pick-up. If he does not have the information or, worse, if no planning has been done, your agent will need to “shop for services.” In this case, the agent will come to find that payment for services is expected in advance so hopefully your agent is in a position to comfortably pay the fees and later seek reimbursement from your estate.


Your agent will also need to provide your vital statistics to the funeral home that include your full name, marital status, name of surviving spouse or registered domestic partner, usual residence, social security number, birth date, state of birth, usual occupation, and father’s and mother’s names and places of birth. Without full information, services may be delayed and there could be a hold up on the issuance of a death certificate. Absent the death certificate, administration of your estate cannot go forward.


An agent named in an advance health care directive can make arrangements for you. Without such a directive California law dictates who can make arrangements: first your spouse or legal partner, then children, parent, sibling and so on. Be aware that if you and your spouse are not legally divorced, your surviving spouse may be in charge of arrangements – which may not necessarily be the ones you would have preferred.


The bottom line is that in addition to the usual estate planning, consider the actions that will need to be taken immediately post-death and then communicate those plans to your agent.

Liza Horvath has over 30 years experience in the estate planning and trust fields and is the president of Monterey Trust Management, a financial and trust management company. This is not intended to be legal or tax advice. If you have a questions call (831)646-5262 or email liza@montereytrust.com










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