Considering the End: Planning for Your Demise in Addition to Estate Planning (Part 2)

by Ervin Cohen & Jessup LLP

As I mentioned in Part 1 of this article, a recent extensive survey indicated that most Americans have no estate plan at all. Part 1 dealt with planning for the immediate concern after one’s death: disposition of your remains, memorial service, obituary and other notifications. This Part focuses more on some meaningful issues which can be handled after those mentioned in Part 1 are resolved, but they are just as important, and can also cause a family division. Further, avoiding the issues described below and leaving their resolution to our survivors is a burden no one seeks.

Before I begin, I recommend that you review my blog article posted on our website on December 5, 2012 about a Legacy Letter. The article is entitled “The Most Valuable Inheritance”, and discusses leaving a personal history for our descendants to treasure.

Your Tangible Personal Effects

After 35 years of estate planning, I’m still perplexed by the fixation some of us have with our parents’ and grandparents’ tangible personal property (meaning things one can lift and remove, such as jewelry, art, clothing, furniture and furnishings). Some of these items, such as jewelry and art, having significant monetary value and often dividing them unevenly among children can result in a rather large discrepancy in shares, but nonetheless this should be addressed before we die. Other articles, such as clothing and furniture, have little value, yet sometimes our survivors can have tremendous emotional trauma based upon who gets even these things.

I have found very often that the most daunting task which siblings face is dividing up the tangible personal effects of their deceased parents, simply because money can be divided easily and real property can be put into a partnership or sold. But one can’t divide up our great-great-grandfather’s snuff box or our great-great-grandmother’s wedding band. Perhaps the value of these items is that they can be held, seen and felt, which cannot be said of the former owners.

Too often, aging parents don’t deal with this division because they fear being pressured by one or more children or being the source of dissent among their children (something, in my experience, frail seniors avoid more than the Plague). But after one’s death, that difficulty is even more conducive of strife, simply because the parent isn’t there to make the hard decisions or to confirm that he or she had promised one item or another to a particular child.

One of my clients thought she was fulfilling this need by putting Post-It® Notes on the back or bottom of each item in her condominium with the name of one of her five children. Sadly, one child who visited her mother discovered this and switched the Notes to her favor !!

If you are fearful of stirring up a fight, and you have particular items you wish to go to specific people, make a list and sign and date it. If you’re not afraid to confront your children on this subject, then read the list to them (all of them at once). By planning this, you will be giving your children a tremendous advantage on the challenge of saving their relationships with each other after your death. As you will readily agree, that is the most valuable legacy you can give to them.

Credit Cards, Online Accounts, Frequent Flyer Mileage

Often, children of aging parents share a credit card with them (which the parents often pay). In this day of identity theft, it is imperative that all credit cards be cancelled as soon as possible after the death of the holder. Identity thieves who hack the customer data of major retailers use their computers to actually scour newspaper obituaries to find names of the recently departed and cross-reference them with vendor accounts. With the few names they find matched to credit card accounts they can then make online purchases without anyone discovering them until someone actually reviews the credit card bills, well after the purchased goods have been delivered (if the credit card company has “fraud alert” function, they’re going to be calling a dead customer to alert them). Sometimes the credit card companies will require a copy of the Death Certificate (which is why you should get many).

Similarly, PayPal and other online accounts should be closed by contacting them and asking for instructions (PayPal requires a letter and a Death Certificate). Otherwise, those funds are lost.

Needless to add, all of this information should be available to your survivors (see the Death Memo discussion below).

Finally, different airlines have different rules regarding inheriting and accessing the mileage accounts of deceased members. Be sure to go to their respective websites to find out whether transfers of this nature are allowed and, further, what will be required by the airline (some of whom require an express declaration in your Will regarding your mileage account).

The Death Memo

In many relationships, one spouse or a single parent or one of the children (on behalf of an aging or infirm parent) keeps up with all of the bank and brokerage accounts, credit cards, memberships, insurance policies, pension benefits, bills and other facets of our financial lives, often to the willing ignorance of the other spouse or the children. These days we have even more private information to keep to ourselves, such as website passwords and personal identification number (PIN’s). Some of us keep most of that information in our heads, and that knowledge is lost when our heads can no longer be accessed.

It is indeed a herculean task to put all of that information into a single memo, including contact information for all of our advisors, account numbers, insurance (life, auto and homeowners) policy numbers, passwords, etc., and I can only recommend to you that you do a little of it each time you sit at your computer. I found that each time a statement comes in the mail, I add the information for that account to what I call my “Death Memo”. As a former CPA, I take on this chunk of my married life division of labor, but I view as perhaps the most crucial part of my estate planning having a single document available so that my surviving wife will be more likely to bless my memory should I be the first to go.

Of course, much all of this information (other than passwords and PIN’s) can be obtained by just watching the mail coming in after someone dies, but the advantage of having all of that information available immediately is the difference between a sweet mourning memory, and the drudgery of searching for information for months after the memorial service.

At least, with modern word processing, changes to the Death Memo are easy updates when we change our empires (or passwords), as opposed to redoing the entire task anew.

Let’s not forget that the information in the Death Memo is often extremely personal and precious so that it could cause great damage if in the hands of unscrupulous users. It is obvious, therefore, that this Memo should be secured in some fashion that it will only be accessed by the appropriate reader when the time comes to use it.

Having a deceased person’s comprehensive Death Memo is like having GPS in the Sahara Desert; at least you won’t doom your survivors to aimless wandering in the wilderness.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Ervin Cohen & Jessup LLP | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

Ervin Cohen & Jessup LLP

Ervin Cohen & Jessup LLP on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Custom Email Digest
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.


JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at:

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.