Tuesday, August 18, 2009

To leave someone money, leave instructions too

Don't count on insurance companies to track down your loved ones to deliver a benefits check when you die. Insurers must pay claims as called for in the policy if beneficiaries ask, but no one forces the companies to hunt for beneficiaries if they don't know you are dead.

State treasurers across the U.S. offer one backstop of sorts. They all run unclaimed property programs in which, after enough time passes, they crack open dormant lock boxes and try to find lost owners or heirs for an estimated $33 billion of stuff accumulated there. The treasurers, including Missouri's Clint Zweifel, often use state fairs to highlight their programs if you want funnel cake with your share of the fortune.

Now Glenville, Ill., entrepreneurs Joe Palmer and Tej Shah offer another solution to the problem. They've set up a free online registration service, WeRemember.org to leave instructions for our loved ones about where to find insurance policies and other important documents needed for them to receive the benefits we intend for them. When we die - and WeRemember verifies that independently - the service calls our beneficiaries and delivers the information we left for them.

Theoretically, we're doing a lot of this already in heart-to-heart conversations with loved ones or instructions we leave with trusted advisers. In real life, that doesn't happen as often as it should. "As a nation, we spend more time planning our next car purchase than dealing with estate planning documents," Palmer said.

We need to do some homework too. Our loved ones are going to need a ton of information when we die and some of it - where to find military discharge papers, birth or marriage certificates, or precise family information to reconstruct anything missing - won't be easy to find without help.

Taking time now to sort out what's important and organize an easy way for someone else to find it. That will make it easier for loved ones later.

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