Planning ahead can bring comfort when a loved one is dying
Hopefully you won’t need this checklist soon, but keep it in a safe place — you will need it someday
By Alan G. Orlowsky, J.D., C.P.A.
When a loved one is gravely ill or suffers a life-threatening injury, you may be too distraught to think rationally about that person’s financial and legal affairs. But someone will need to take care of those matters, to protect your loved one’s estate and prevent matters from falling into neglect or chaos.
All too often, a client calls my office in a state of panic, saying something like, “My father (or my spouse) is dying, I don’t know where his money is or how to pay his bills, I don’t know where the deeds and titles and tax returns are, I can’t find the name of his accountant, I don’t even know if he has a will. What should I do?”
I can’t tell you how many times that conversation has taken place even though I had advised the same client years earlier to discuss those matters with their spouse or parents, in order to prevent an estate-planning train wreck in the family.
Even if you do have such discussions and become familiar with your loved ones’ estate, when the time comes that you must take action to protect the estate, you may be too distraught to remember all the tasks that must be accomplished and phone calls that must be made. That’s when you need a checklist like the following — keep it in a safe place with your own estate planning documents.
Talking to a dying loved one about money and burial instructions may seem difficult now, but in most cases the loved one derives comfort from knowing that his or her wishes will be noted and followed. Here is a list of tasks to undertake in tending to the last wishes of a loved one:
After your loved one passes on, you will have to take care of the following additional matters:
These checklists are not necessarily all-inclusive — some estates are quite complex, especially when they are complicated by divorce, blended families, complicated business relationships, adopted children, hostilities among family members, disputes with or distrust of advisers, etc. But the checklists touch on the most common and most important items that you’ll deal with upon the death of a loved one.
Alan G. Orlowsky, President of Orlowsky & Wilson, Ltd. in Lincolnshire, Illinois, has been counseling people on estate planning for over 30 years. He previously worked for the IRS in its Estate and Gift Tax Division. He also worked for the Deloitte & Touche accounting firm, and he has taught taxation and accounting at Loyola University of Chicago, School of Business.
Al is a contributing author of the book 21st Century Wealth (Esperti Peterson Institute, Denver, 2000), and has written numerous articles on the subject of estate planning. Contact Alan Orlowsky by email or call 847-325-5559.
Updated January 2020