“It ain’t what they call you,” said W.C. Fields. “It’s what you answer to.” The hard-drinking American comedian knew what he was talking about. Throughout his life, Fields would answer to many names, including Otis Criblecoblis, Mahatma Kane Jeeves, and Uncle Claude.
Many of us in the LGBTQ community are also fond of “stage names,” which our friends may use out of affection or sheer playfulness! A legal name, on the other hand, is an important part of our identity, and taking on a new name is usually done only for serious reasons. Often, these reasons include major life events.
“My friends are my estate,” said Emily Dickinson, the reclusive American poet. Many of us can appreciate the sentiment. When asked about writing a will, we shrug. “What have I got to leave anyone besides a little Subaru and a lot of student loan debt?”
The truth is that estate planning is just as essential for the rich as for the unrich because a properly drafted plan does more than simply divide up your worldly goods. It ensures that people you trust are in charge in case something should happen to you, and it protects any children you may have. Here’s how it works:
When someone dies, the task of settling the person’s estate descends upon the personal representative. Being appointed a personal representative, or “executor,” is an honor that includes a broad range of responsibilities. This person must be part administrator, part accountant, and part diplomat!
Depending on the complexity of the estate, the process can drag on for years, or the estate can be opened and closed the same day. In either case, the personal representative may want to begin with a phone call to an estates and trusts attorney for guidance.
The attorney can simply point the personal representative in the right direction during a single consultation. Or the attorney can assume some or all of the duties of the personal representative, making the process less burdensome.
The challenge for most people who settle an estate is that they do this only once in their lives and therefore have to “learn on the job.” What follows is an overview of the steps involved.
Benjamin Franklin famously said that the only two certainties in life are death and taxes. A close third would be family squabbles over who gets the personal property when someone dies.
Even a well thought-out estate plan may leave room for disagreements. For example, if Mom leaves everything to her children “in equal shares,” assets like investment accounts and real estate can simply be liquidated and divided up. But when it comes to household items like photos and family heirlooms, each item is unique—and sometimes holds deep sentimental value.
What’s the value of the old sofa where Dad used to read to the kids versus the cake plate Mom used to pull out for each child’s birthday? These can be difficult questions to grapple with, especially in the emotionally fraught time after a profound loss.
With a little extra planning, however, you can help head off a family row over who gets what.