The Saturday Trust: Getting Organized

Get your shizzle together

One of many big donations 
The Museum of You 
Let's talk about stuff.  As a successor trustee dealing with everything that my dad accumulated in 78 years, I can tell you that this aspect of closing a trust is a major big deal.  

Fact #1:  When you die, people give your stuff away.

If you want to share the things that are meaningful to you, do this before you kick the bucket.  Otherwise, assume that a lot of your things are going to be donated or sold on Ebay.  If you're not ready to part with certain treasures, then communicate your wishes ahead of time to the successor trustee.  For items of value, back it up in writing either in the pour-over will or in a hand-written note to be kept with a copy of the trust.

You never know what you'll find

Organize Your Stuff
Let's talk about files.  Fortunately, my dad kept organized files which made the panicky hunt for bills, tax returns, insurance policies, appliance warrantees, property taxes, home maintenance, and vehicle registrations less of a nightmare.

His most important bank and billing statements, along with his most recently filed tax returns (going back 2 years), were easily accessible in his desk.  Important documents (e.g. insurance contracts, employment records, old tax returns and financial statements) were organized into 3-ring binders on a shelf in his office.  I still did not have his passwords to access the accounts online, but at least I had an idea of what was current and what was not.

Fact #2:  Paper Rules!
As much as we think that we live in a digital age, paper rules when it comes to financial institutions and property.  And, you'd be surprised how often I've been asked to fax documents.  Make sure that your important online accounts are backed up with hard copies and filed together in a logical place.

Bills (multi)_Policies (gray & yellow)_Investments (blue)
Not in the photo...Taxes (red)_Banking (green)

Keep a password journal with all of your current passwords.  Put it in a safe and secure location, and tell the successor trustee where it is.  This can be either a fireproof safe in your house or a safe deposit box in a bank.  In either case, the successor trustee should have a duplicate key.

Fact #3:  The successor will need immediate access to online passwords.

Amazon has a nice selection of inexpensive password journals.

Click HERE for a handy, spiral-bound passbook journal by BookFactory ($5.99 on Amazon Prime)

Safe & Secure Places
Safe Deposit Box
My dad kept his important papers in a safe deposit box under the name of the family trust.  The bank charged him a $20 deposit and issued 2 keys when he opened the account in 2010.  There is an annual charge for the box, around $45 a year for a standard, medium-size box.  When my dad added my name to the safe deposit box that same year, he gave me one of his keys, and we met at the bank to review the contents of the box.

Under the supervision of a bank rep, my dad and I both signed the safe deposit box bank register.  Then, we were escorted back into the bank vault.  Box owners are the only ones allowed to open a safe deposit box, so I used my key, and we were then shown into a small private room where we reviewed the contents.  It was at this time that my dad explained the history and the significance of every item in the safe deposit box, so I had an idea of what was in there.

This was the most important thing we did together in setting up the family trust.

I did not return to the bank until three years later (in December of 2013), shortly after my dad died.  Without his passwords and important papers, I could not have begun the arduous task of figuring out his finances.  This is where the most immediate responsibility of the successor trustee begins.

Fact #4:  The successor trustee needs to know where to look.

Give the successor trustee the address and phone number of the bank where the safe deposit box is located.

I did not know until I closed the safe deposit box that the bank requires the return of both keys.  I've never located my dad's key, so we forfeited the $20 deposit, which was no big deal.  But, it would have been nice if he'd kept his key in a locked fireproof safe at his house and given me a duplicate key so that I could return both keys.

A Fireproof Safe at the House
Most people have a home safe for passports, birth certificates, death certificates, marriage & divorce papers, property titles, mortgage papers, and important keys.  This is also a great place to keep a password journal!

Click HERE for a spiffy pink one by Sentry ($19.97) on Amazon Prime

Which is best?
The tricky thing about a safe deposit box is that you are dealing with bank security.  Upon notification of a death, a bank will immediately seal a safe deposit box and freeze the bank account(s).  Unsealing a safe deposit box requires an original death certificate issued by the Department of Vital Statistics, plus trust documents and a new EIN (an Employer ID Number is assigned to the trust in place of a Social Security number).

The process of changing the name of the trustee on the bank account took several weeks in my case, which meant that I had to pay my dad's bills out of my own pocket.  I could not pay the trust attorney until I had access to the trust accounts, and lost wages, plus travel expenses, had to wait for reimbursement.

I was almost denied access to the safe deposit box despite the fact that I had a coroner's death certificate, a burial permit from the mortuary, and all of the trust documents naming me as successor trustee.  I had to get special permission from the branch manager to access the box just once and clean it out.

Fact #5:  It typically takes 2 weeks for original death certificates to arrive.

Access is also limited by the bank's hours of operation.  If you happen to drop dead on a holiday, your successor will not be able to speak to a bank representative until after the bank reopens.

For all of the reasons above, I think that a home safe is best for storing important papers and original documents.  A fireproof safe is pretty secure, although a home burglary or anyone with a spare house key could easily compromise that security.  They still won't have the key, and you can always change stolen passwords.  Make copies of everything in the safe (like your passport, birth certificate, etc.) and give them to the successor trustee.

Click HERE for a good article on this topic by CBS Money Watch

Fact #6:  Banks will seal a safe deposit box and freeze bank accounts as soon as they are notified that someone has died.  It may take several weeks to gain access to accounts that are in the name of the trust.

My advice to the successor trustee:  Don't tell the banks right away.  Clear out the box, and go online to study the finances.  You will need to notify the banks eventually to begin the process of changing the trust accounts over to your name as successor trustee, but it's okay to first study how the money works.

Are auto-pays being drawn, and how often?  Look at online statements and figure out how it all works.  Take hard copies of financial statements going back two years, then download pdf files going back as far as you can.  Then, notify the banks and begin the process of taking control of the trust accounts.  Do this for insurance policies, as well, because as soon as you let them know that the account holder is deceased, you will never again have access to that information.


Throw away old keys!

Throw away outdated, useless keys.

On the flip side, keep a complete set of labeled master keys & give one set to the successor trustee.

•  House key
•  Mailbox key
•  Gate key
•  Storage shed keys
•  Workshop keys
•  Vehicle keys (cars, trucks, RV, travel trailer, motorcycles)
•  Home safe key
•  Keys to locked drawers and cabinets
•  Briefcase key
•  Padlock keys
•  Tool box keys

Pre-Needs & Health Directives
Pre-Need Burial Contracts
First, if you are setting up a trust, and you don't have a pre-need contract with a funeral home, then do it now.  This locks in burial costs at the time that you sign the contract, and you pay ahead of time.  This is simply a gift to the successor trustee.  The out-of-pocket expense for a basic cremation these days starts at around $1,500 and goes up from there.  Even with a pre-need, the successor will be responsible for paying around $500 in miscellaneous state and local fees which are due immediately.  He or she won't leave the funeral home without writing a check.

My dad chose a reputable funeral home that was 10 minutes from his house.  That really did make things a lot easier because it takes at least two trips to finalize all of the arrangements.

Fact #7:  All veterans of military service get a free U.S. flag (available at the funeral home)

Give the successor a copy of your pre-need contract and let them know what your preferences are with regards to a funeral service and burial.  Write it down in your pour-over will.  This is especially important if you do not want a funeral service because for some friends and family members, this is an important part of saying good-bye.  Some folks can get real pushy about it, too.  If you do not want a service, make your wishes clear to the successor and include it in the pour-over will.

Fact #8:  Cremation niches are obscenely expensive pieces of real estate. 

Power of Attorney Health Directive
If you have a Power of Attorney health directive giving the successor trustee the authority to make medical decisions for you, give the successor a copy of that, as well.

Update Beneficiaries
Be sure to update life insurance policies and name the successor, not the trust, as the beneficiary.  Discuss this important issue with your trust attorney to make an informed decision.  Based on my actual experience, things would have been a lot easier if my dad had updated his life insurance policy and named me as the beneficiary.  His records showed that he had made an earnest attempt to do this, but he was given the run-around by his insurance company who first claimed that they never received the paperwork, then told him that he had sent in an outdated form.  When he died, the policy was in his name only, but included in the Assignment of Assets.  

Being a successor does not guarantee that an insurance company will automatically pay the policy out to the trust.  Traditional insurance companies do not necessarily recognize the legal authority of a trust over a Last Will & Testament.  A trust is not a person, and they prefer to pay out to human beings.  If the trust is named as the beneficiary, they may not pay without a Set-Aside Procedure and a court order from a probate judge.  

It is simpler to name the individual successor as the beneficiary and stipulate in the trust that all insurance policies are estate assets contained in the trust.  The successor is legally bound to carry out the terms of the trust and any direct instructions in the pour-over will.  If you want the money to be divided among your heirs, stipulate this in the trust, but don't overcomplicate the insurance payout by naming more than one beneficiary on the policy.  You can, but it complicates things because the named beneficiaries have to sign off on all of the paperwork.  If everyone lives nearby, that's great.  If they live in different states, it will slow down the whole process of closing the trust.

One thing I wish that my dad had done was to maintain a relationship with the local representative of his term life policy.  He purchased his policy several years before he set up the family trust, and the agent who assisted him with the original contract had long-since left the company.  Upon first contact, I was handed off to a junior agent who kept having to call the main office for instructions on how to proceed.  

Fact #9:  Life insurance companies do not recognize trusts as beneficiaries. 

Share Contact Numbers
Give the successor trustee a list of important contacts.

Include the following:

•  Name of the trust attorney, the legal firm & the phone number
•  Most important contacts to notify immediately (e.g. Medicare, Medicare RX, Social Security, insurance companies, doctors, maid service)
•  If you have pets, the name & phone number of the veterinarian and the vet practice
•  2 or 3 trusted friends who are available to help out (e.g. deliver items to someone's house; take care of pets; stop newspaper delivery; pick up vehicles that might be parked on the street; take loads to Goodwill; drive by and check on the house until family members arrive)
•  Name & phone number of the gardener to continue regular service
•  Contact info for the alarm company to change emergency numbers
•  Friends/family who might want to buy big ticket items (e.g. cars, RV, motorcycles)

Fact #10:  A change of address can be done online at the USPS website for a $1 credit card charge.  The card that is used has to be in the name of the deceased.

It takes months to get all of the mail going to the successor, and a change of address has to happen right away.  A change of address can be done quickly and easily online, but only if you have a credit card in the name of the deceased.  As far as the US mail is concerned, the deceased is the one making the change of address.

Credit Cards
Leave one paid down credit card to cover immediate household expenses until the successor has access to the trust funds.   

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