Read This Before You Die: A Financial Checklist for Mortals

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Anything that reminds us of our own mortality is more likely to be put off than the biannual cleaning of the gutters. But ignoring death won’t make it go away. Here's a list of five financial steps you need to take before time runs out.

I hope I snagged you with headline, because it was really my only shot. Let’s face it: Most of us would like to be immortal. Anything that reminds us of our own mortality is more likely to be put off than the biannual cleaning of the gutters. But ignoring death won’t make it go away, and putting off what you need to do before you die won’t make your remaining years—no matter how many you have—any easier. So let’s make this short and sweet: Five simple things to do before you die.

1. Have a will or living trust in place. Every sitcom ever has seemingly had a “reading of the will” scene. But a living trust, which has some advantages over a will—including avoiding probate, federal and state tax advantages, and the ability to determine when a young dependent will be able to have access to the trust—is gaining popularity, and for good reason. We’ll discuss the differences between a living trust and in a will in a future article. For now, be sure you have one or the other in place, and be sure you’ve worked through it with a reputable attorney and not an online kit.


2. Find a trusted estate administrator. This is the person who will be responsible for following the rules of your will or trust in the event of your death. The person doesn’t have to be an attorney, but it should be someone responsible and of sound mind. Your spouse can be your estate administrator, but that may not be the best option. After your death, your spouse may not be so clear-headed.

3. Make lists...and check them twice. If you run your own practice, chances are there are many things about the practice, the business, the patients, the technology, or even the office space itself that only you know. If you die suddenly, your family, partners, and staff may be confused, distraught, and unprepared for the affairs that will have to be handled. Make lists of your assets and where they’re held, what you owe and to whom, and charitable organizations you support. These assets can include cars, homes, jewelry, and the like, but they also include savings and retirement accounts and all of your insurance policies. Also make a professional list of anything the team left behind after your death may need to know. Then, don’t hide those lists under your desk blotter. Send one copy to your attorney, one to your estate administrator, one to your life partner or practice partner (or both), and one to your safe deposit box.

4. Update your beneficiaries...and your business succession plan. Accounts and policies for which you list a beneficiary pass to that person or entity at your death. A will specifying a beneficiary will not (in most cases) override a beneficiary designation listed on an annuity contract, retirement account, or life insurance benefit. Make sure your beneficiaries are updated and listed correctly. And make sure any share of practice ownership you have and any practice assets are going to the person you choose.

5. Talk to a financial advisor or estate attorney. This is pretty complicated stuff. If you want to make sure your assets are going where they should, that your family is taken care of, and that the period immediately following your death isn’t unnecessarily complicated on top of being sad, talk through your preparation with an experienced professional.

It won’t help you when you’re dead. But it may make the years leading up to your death a little more peaceful.