Everyone has a different relationship with the saying “getting your affairs in order.” For people who are planners, sorting out their will and estate planning can feel like a sigh of relief. Others can find the process intimidating and stressful. Regardless of how you feel about it, we can all agree that there are many details involved in the process. We’re here to walk you through some of the basics to help you get started.
If the terms probate, executor and trust sound like complicated lawyer words, it is because they are. Here is a brief overview so you can begin to familiarize yourself with those terms:
- Probate: After someone passes away, their estate will be reviewed by a court. This process is referred to as probate. Basically, the court is looking to be sure you don’t have any unpaid debts or issues with your estate that still need to be settled. Depending on the details of your estate, this can be a costly and lengthy process.
- Executor: The executor is the person who will be in charge of managing your estate during the probate process.
- Trust: There are many different types of trusts, but essentially it is when a third party (typically this is a bank) holds and manages your assets. The main benefit to trusts is they can usually avoid the probate process.
What else do I need to think about?
- Bank accounts: It might be a good idea to add someone’s name to your bank account, because your money could be frozen during probate. If someone else can also access your account they will be able to write checks for the more expensive things, like funeral expenses.
- Life insurance: Remember when you signed up for a life insurance policy and designated someone to inherit that money? Even if you detail different names of people who will inherit your money on your will, that life insurance money will still go to the person you originally named on your policy. Be sure to occasionally review that information to be sure it is current.
- Children: This is one of the hardest things to think about as a parent, but also the most important. Especially if you’re a single parent, having a plan in place early on will help reduce some anxiety for you later, and it will help your child in the long run too. If you have children under 18, name someone in your will to take over Testamentary Guardianship. This person will become your child’s legal guardian, so people often choose a relative or close friend.
- Communication: Appointing people to manage your estate and care for your children are big responsibilities for someone to take on. It is important to name people you can talk to about your wishes and that you trust.
- Anything else? Do you have a boat, vehicle, storage unit or any other property you own? Remember to consider everything you have or will inherit and make a plan for what will happen to those things.
Where to start
That was a lot of information, so now where do you start? Keep in mind that everyone’s situation is unique, so it is often best to consult legal resources or an attorney. However, we all know that legal fees are not cheap, so if cost is a concern you might look into the Northwest Justice Project, Washington LawHelp or the CLEAR hotline. It is also possible to do all of this yourself online. Organizations like the American Bar Association have resources and more information on their website. The bonus of doing it yourself is that you’ll save a lot of money in the short-term. However, because legal processes can be complex and there are a lot of important details to keep straight, some people prefer to work with an attorney.
Although stressful at first, figuring out your will and estate planning can ultimately put your mind at ease. If you have additional questions or need support through this process, feel free to reach out to an oncology social worker. We understand navigating this process can be hard, so we are here to help.
Here are some additional resources that you may find helpful:
- Northwest Justice Project: https://nwjustice.org/
- Washington LawHelp: http://www.washingtonlawhelp.org/
- CLEAR hotline: https://nwjustice.org/clear-hotline
- American Bar Association
- Swedish Cancer Institute Oncology Social Work Services: 206-386-3228
This article is from the Fall 2018 issue of Life to the Fullest, the newsletter from the Swedish Cancer Institute dedicated to those with cancer, cancer survivors, and their family members and caregivers.