Before you read this column, grab a pen, paper, or your laptop. We have some serious work to do.
April is wills month, and over 26 per cent of you reading this do not have a current will. How do I know this? I have surveyed my farm audiences all winter long, and that is the typical number of folks who sheepishly slide down their chairs when confronted.
Today is the day to call your lawyer for an appointment. Seeding is around the corner, but you can still get this done this month. A will that is drafted and signed, can be finessed as your circumstances change. A family without a will is like a bomb ready to explode. Get it done!
Also, since I last drafted this column four years ago, I have come across three books to shake you up to action, all written by Barry M. Fish and Les Kotzer:
Where there’s an inheritance…stories from inside the world of two lawyers;
The Family Fight…planning to avoid it;
The Family War…winning the inheritance battle (see www.familyfight.com).
I have had lots of hard conversations over the past few months with distraught families who are sad that the will was not discussed before the death, and now things are in chaos. So, get your will done, have enduring power of attorney for your spouse and business partners.
Then, as you are working on updating your affairs, get your documents in order so that your executor won’t have a rough time knowing what to do. I did a binder for my dad in 2011, and it made execution of his estate much smoother. BDO Dunwoody has a new tool to help you start to get organized. Ask for the “personal affairs checklist.” I started mine in a binder four years ago, and want it done by the end of April.
When you die, does your family know what to do?
My speaker friend Jolene Brown, http://www.jolenebrown.com/pdf/what-want-done-article.pdf has a very powerful article entitled, “What do you want done with your body when you are dead?”™. She spent a 14-hour road trip with her hubby, listing all the important details that her family would need to know upon their deaths. Print off her article to help you get organized. (I have her permission to do this.)
You don’t want to deal with this do you? Our children have asked us to get a binder in place for them, so that they know who to call, and what suppliers and advisers we use to run our life and our farm. This makes an excellent spring project, while you are waiting for the snow to melt, and can find the path to the burn barrel.
Funeral plans can be laid out. Call your local funeral director for planning tools. You now can spend an extra $99 to protect against identity theft of the deceased, so be clear about what you need and want. In the height of grief, your emotions may open the pocketbook wider than you wish.
Make copies of important documents like driver licences, SIN cards, birth certificates, etc. Throw away the irrelevant stuff, and feel lighter as you de-clutter.
Buy a labeller to make files and tabs you can read in large print. Beauty in organization creates energy, and you’re going to need energy!
Think of a great reward for yourself once you finish the project, for me a massage sounds like a great treat for hard work bent over a messy filing cabinet.
Many of us in the sandwich generation have power of attorney for our parents, and/or siblings. I did a binder for my dad, and I also have had a long chat with one sibling, whose estate I will be responsible to execute.
If you love to surf the Internet, I’m sure that there are executor checklists, and “Save our stuff” checklists that you can alter to fit your needs. The main thing is to act, and get the documents in order. The next thing is to communicate to several family members, and especially your executor where the important papers are. You might be smart to copy the binder, and give it to your executor. Financial planners and lawyers have checklist tools that you can seek out from your trusted advisers. The important thing is to collect the details of your life in a centralized location.
“Conversations are not a contract,” as my friend Jolene Brown says. In the days I have spent in front of farm audiences, I continue to be amazed at the number of people who don’t have wills, or decent written operating agreements with their farm business partners. Your wishes for your funeral and burial need to be written down. Start a funeral plans file. Set a date to complete the binder of documents and details.
When I die, I want my family to know what to do. I don’t want to have a phone call from readers telling me in a few months that this column was a really great idea, and then discover that nothing was done about it.
“Talk does not cook rice,” says a Chinese proverb. Get to work. The journey of 1,000 miles begins with one step… start the project!
Let me know when your binder is finished, and that you’ve had your family meeting. Ask me if my binder is finished, I need accountability partners, too.
When you die, I hope you have time to say farewell to your family. As our son Ian has said, “It’s not goodbye, it’s see you later.” I hope your family embraces the hope of heaven. I will be delighted to know you have given them the gift of clear direction, so that when you die, they know what to do.
Remember, it’s your farm, your family, your choice. †