Lessons from Irwin’s Death: Take Your Estate on a “Test Drive”

In last week’s Family Legacy Planning email, I revealed how my brother Irwin’s death was a wake-up call in so many ways. I shared how death often comes without notice. As I’ve shared before, not only do “you only live once” (YOLO), but also “you only die once” (YODO), so you have only one chance to get it right. The key message is to BE PREPARED and have your affairs in order. Death, especially when unexpected, is viciously hard on your family. Don’t make it even harder by leaving them unfinished business.

When a client dies, we immediately embark on the details of estate administration. We gather legal documents, learn how bank accounts are titled, find out the beneficiary of life insurance and retirement plans, and determine to whom everything passes. All too often, we discover surprises:

  • A bank account or brokerage account that pays on death outright to an unintended person, instead of passing through the Will to a trust with built-in protections
  • An outdated beneficiary designation that leaves life insurance or retirement assets to the wrong recipient
  • Documents naming an executor, trustee, or guardian for your minor kids you wish you’d changed
  • Bequests that should’ve been added or omitted
  • Lack of instructions on how to distribute personal effects, which could have helped avoid some painful fights among heirs.

We usually discover these surprises within days of a loved one’s death. Had we only known before their passing, we could’ve easily and quickly fixed them. That brings me to my core message: by taking your estate on a “test drive,” you look at how your plan runs as if you passed away today. Now you have a chance to make things right. It puts you in the driver’s seat of your estate plan.

If your estate planning documents have been sitting on the shelf for a while, now’s the time to do a “pre-death audit” or test run around the track. Red flags on the course include the following:

  • Documents drafted more than four years ago
  • Significant life events, such as marriage or divorce, for you or your family members
  • Serious health challenges
  • Newborn children or grandchildren
  • Bank accounts set up to “pay on death” or pass by “right of survivorship,” circumventing your Will.

The Blum Firm can help you perform the test run and then assist with any needed tune-up to your estate plan. This sounds like a good New Year’s Resolution to me.

Wishing you a New Year that’s happy and HEALTHY (and boy has that word taken on a new significance!),

Marvin E. Blum

Irwin (left) and Marvin (right) with mother Elsie Blum. Irwin’s untimely death teaches us lessons— be prepared, and do an estate “test drive” to make sure all’s in working order.