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A Lesson from “Coco”: Estate Planning Before Your Journey to the Land of the Dead

Estate planning isn’t just for the wealthy. All adults — especially those with children — should do these four things.

Don Milne Nov 1, 2018

Dealing with being dead is not a comfortable topic, so it was surprising when last year Pixar announced its big movie “Coco” was about a boy visiting the Land of the Dead and spending time with a bunch of talking skeletons.

Is this a movie for kids, or a horror movie?

As everyone now knows, the movie was a big hit with families, even winning the Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film. Getting prepared for your own future visit to the Land of the Dead can be a big hit with your family. You don’t want to leave your family with any surprises, like what happened to Coco’s family after her father died.

Many people think estate planning is just for old, rich people. That’s not true. Any adult, and especially those with children, can prepare now with these four estate planning tips:

Estate planning tip #1 Create a Will

The movie would have had a totally different story if Coco’s dad had made a will that said, “I leave all my songs to my family.” Instead (spoiler alert!) his no-good partner stole his songs and used them to make him rich and famous.

Many people avoid making a will because they think it is too expensive. While it is true that a will prepared by a lawyer can run into the hundreds of dollars, if your net worth is six figures or more, it is probably worth the cost to make sure it is professionally prepared. A will should cost less than a smart phone, and chances are you didn’t blink twice about getting your last smart phone. Which is more important?

Check with your human resources department — many employers offer a little-known fringe benefit of free will preparation. It’s worth asking about. If you don’t think you can afford a professionally prepared will, a do-it-yourself will may suffice in the short term for simple needs like identifying a guardian for your children.

Estate planning tip #2 Get an Advance Medical Directive (aka Living Will)

Say you’re playing a guitar under a huge bell and it falls on you, leaving you unconscious on a ventilator. If you had an advance medical directive documenting your wishes related to life sustaining treatment, the doctors would know what medical treatment to give you. You can easily fill this out at the same time you complete your will.

Estate planning tip #3 Create a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care

Sometimes, even in non-life threatening situations, you may not be in a position to make health care decisions. Say you faint in shock after you notice your hand has become translucent and you can see your bones inside. A durable power of attorney for health care allows you to identify someone you trust, usually a spouse, to make health care decisions on your behalf when you can’t. Again, this can be easily filled out when you do a will.

Estate planning tip #4 Don't Forget Beneficiaries

Remember how Hector couldn’t get past the customs checkpoint to leave the Land of the Dead? He didn’t have the proper documentation. Make sure you document your primary beneficiary and secondary beneficiary on all your bank and brokerage accounts. If you leave it off, those funds will not be available to your heirs until your estate is settled.

There are more complicated estate planning tools that can involve various types of trusts: CRATs, CRUTs, QTIPs, QDOTs, TPPTs, QPRTs, ILITs, and more. Looks like a bad rack of Scrabble letters!

Fortunately, most people don’t need this level of estate planning, but if you want to increase the chances that your financial wishes are followed after you are gone, it is worth at least discussing your estate needs with an estate planning professional.

Don Milne is the Financial Literacy Manager for Zions Bank.

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