Articles and Columns

Carissa Giebel column: Make Your Last Wishes Known

11:00 PM, May. 28, 2012

Making life a little easier for your loved ones during a time of sorrow should not be something taken lightly. It’s important to let your family know not only what your last wishes are before crisis occurs, but also what documents you have and where they can be found.

If you have a Last Will, it’s important to let you family members know where they can find the signed original. A photocopy is probably not going to cut it.

If you have a Trust, make sure its whereabouts is known by somebody. Has your trust been funded? If all your assets are not in your trust now or set up to go there after death, a significant amount of time and money will be spent on an unnecessary probate. Keep a record of the assets that have been funded to your trust, so your successor trustee doesn’t have to try to determine what is in the trust and what is not.

If your Trust is designed to protect assets for your beneficiaries from creditors, divorce, lawsuits, bankruptcy, etc., make sure your beneficiaries know this. If they do not understand the value of the planning you spent time and money putting together, they might miss out on some of the benefits.

Have you taken a copy of your Health Care Power of Attorney or Living Will to your family physician to file in your medical records? If not, consider doing so. That way, in case of an emergency, loved ones do not have to scramble to find the documents. It’s also a good idea to communicate with the person you named as your initial health care agent so they are aware ahead of time that you want them to make your health care decisions if you are unable to make them yourself, and also so they know what your medical wishes are.

You should also give a copy of your Durable Power of Attorney for finances to the agent you named in the document. You might also want your bank or investment company to keep a copy in their records.

If your power of attorney documents (medical or financial) cannot found and your family starts the process of a guardianship so they can make decisions on your behalf, there will be an unnecessary amount of time and expenses involved.

Do you have records of all your assets? It can be a big hassle for loved ones to try to track down what life insurance policies you had, and which ones, if any, are still in force. If you have bank accounts or investment accounts held at multiple locations, keep at least one statement for each account in a place where it can easily be found.

If you have online accounts, it might not be a bad idea to keep a record of all your usernames and passwords.

Organize your files in folders or a file cabinet, and make sure to review them regularly and keep them updated. One of the most precious gifts you can leave your family is a well organized plan and peace within the family. More so than the dollars, that is the legacy that matters most.

Carissa Giebel is an estate planning attorney and partner at Legacy Law Group, LLC. She can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or (920) 560-4651.

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