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Is Your Estate Plan Like an Easter Egg Hunt?

My parents had a knack for planning fun outings. Who could forget that April afternoon in 1980 when I accompanied them to three banks to sit with a banker and go over 12-month CD rates?

Inflationary cycles and bank visits went together like peanut butter and jelly in my family. High-interest rates were like warm hugs from the government. As an added perk, banks even threw in a toaster, vacuum cleaner or small black-and-white TV when you opened a new account.

Being teachers during that era, my parents’ salaries were effectively locked in place. Shopping around to locate higher interest rates for their savings was the intelligent way to combat their earnings limitations. However, for estate planning purposes, more accounts made recordkeeping more complicated.

Estates can take a long time to administer because heirs and executors have to track down old bank accounts, storage lockers and property records. Separating junk from valuable antiques is not always simple. Executors often must educate themselves as to the decedent’s collectibles – their value, their marketplaces and the best sale options.

Hoarder homes present additional obstacles, as important records blend in with thousands of bags and envelopes. Finding hidden cash and jewelry is not uncommon, and that, too, can slow an estate down as executors search every drawer and box.

In addition to drafting fundamental planning documents such as a Will or Trust, we encourage clients to create a “Letter to my Executor.” This instruction letter contains a list of assets, passwords, tangible personal property, collectibles and other important facts necessary to help organize one’s estate. How is an adult child otherwise supposed to piece together 50 years of accumulations and financial activity without some guidance?

Relying on database searches of unclaimed funds is inefficient, so why not make life easier for your family?

One solution is consolidation; work with a financial advisor to bring order to a haphazard collection of financial accounts. Merging numerous small accounts into one or two accounts is a basic consolidation step. As a bonus, updating beneficiary forms for these consolidated accounts will simplify the estate process. Beneficiary designations direct assets to the exact individual without going through the Probate process.

For tangible personal property, tag sales offer an excuse to comb through personal belongings and identify items that have value but take up space and are no longer needed. Sometimes, aging parents may not realize how valuable some of their personal effects or artwork has become.

Taking photos and making spreadsheets are smart ways to organize heirlooms. This information can be forwarded to reputable auction houses and dealers who will schedule home visits if it is warranted.

Romping through a backyard to snatch plastic eggs with candy inside is way more fun than opening up 60-year-old sewing boxes to find that Emigrant Savings Bank Passbook from 1975. The lesson is, as always, make life simpler for the people you care about.

Alan D. Feller, Esq., is managing partner of The Feller Group, located at 625 Route 6, Mahopac. He can be reached at


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