UPDATED Death and Taxes (or if There’s a Will, where is it?)


By Abe Sherman, CEO

This is one of those subjects we don’t like to talk about, but unfortunately we’re all going to have to deal with it at some point. I guess I’m just at that age when people I’ve known for many years are starting to pass away. I’m not going to get into why you’d want a life insurance policy or for how much, that should be obvious to all of you. This is about your Last Will. I was meeting with my attorney and accountant a few months ago, working with both of them on estate planning and my Will. I asked them who should get a copy of the Will and they suggested that I should keep it in a safe place. Well duh… thanks for that, but what if no one can find it… then what happens.   WELL, that’s when my attorney told me that that exact situation happens more than you’d think… and it’s a mess! Holy cow!

This subject came up again because a friend of mine passed away in August and I’ve been thinking about what people ‘leave behind’ in terms of their personal and professional lives; or more to the point, what they don’t leave behind.   I called my accountant recently and asked him if he keeps a copy of his client’s Will in their files – he does not. I asked him if he knows which attorney each of his clients are using in case something comes up and again, in most cases, he does not! I have what appears to be an atypical situation where I put my attorney and accountant in the same room for various things so they know where we are at with each of those subjects; my business, my kids, my Will.

Also, while many people use a CPA to do their taxes each year, many more don’t have an attorney they use on a regular basis. Business owners usually have an attorney they use for leases and loan docs, etc., but what about your staff? {Note: In the article that went out last week, the word staff was inadvertently changed to stuff, but I wanted to address all of the people in your organization who may not have an attorney they work with who specializes in estate planning.}

In a lot of cases, the only time someone has needed an attorney was to close on a house, and in many states an attorney isn’t even needed for real estate closings. If you {or the folks who work for you} don’t work with an attorney, ask your CPA for a recommendation of an attorney they know who handles estates, trusts and Wills. I believe it’s important for your accountant to know who your attorney is since the accountant does your taxes every year and those are usually found in your home or office. If no one could find your Will and didn’t know who your attorney was, the first phone call I would make would be to your CPA to ask if they had your attorney’s name on file.

Work with your accountant and your attorney together on your Will and estate planning. Some attorneys may be familiar and skilled in tax and estate planning, but many are not and the worst time to find out about it is after you’re gone. Tax accountants who do trust work should, in my opinion, do this in concert with your attorney who specializes in these areas. I would have each of them, or at least your attorney, keep a copy of your Will in case yours cannot be found. {I met with my attorney again last week and his firm will be keeping a copy of my Will in their safe}

Another thing that happens that I was made aware of with attorneys is that they too pass away or close up shop at some point and if they do before you die, their copy of the Will may be lost too. I had never thought about the attorney who is a single practitioner whose files are tossed out when they die or close up shop, but it happens.

Many people put their Will in a safe-deposit box. The problem is that once someone passes away, that box gets locked and no one can get in it until the estate is settled, even if there is another name on it. If a family member dies, the first thing you do is go to the bank before anyone informs them and empty the safety deposit box. Have a plan in the family – if there is a safe-deposit box, make sure there are at least two people able to access it, and best if one is an adult child. Keep a copy of the will at home – in a file or best if you have a home safe. Make sure both spouses and your kids know the combination!


The Book: Advice from my attorney – In a three-ring binder, leave all pertinent information for your heirs. This will include all information that people will need including your bank accounts, passwords to online banking, email accounts, where your safe deposit boxes are, lists of personal items that you want to give to individuals etc.

The Explanatory Letter: In addition to your Will, you should have a letter that outlines lots of other personal information, such as specifying who gets what, especially personal property. You can find many examples of these, as well as forms to us, by doing a search on line for Wills and Explanatory Letters.

Things are stressful enough when someone passes away – these simple steps will make it a bit easier for those left behind.