Articles by The Professional Trustee Team
Last week a friend of mine unexpectedly passed away.
His passing left behind many family members and friends in great pain. It also resulted in quite a nightmare when it came down to dealing with his business and his personal assets.
Since this is a personal matter, you may be asking...Why am I writing this blog post and sharing this with you? Well I'm hoping that by telling this story, you will put in place the steps to ensure your affairs are in order - to ensure continuity for the people left behind when you die.
You see when someone dies, its hard enough having to deal with the loss. Having to try and take action to protect assets and run a business at the same time just makes a bad situation even worse.
Within two hours of death, all Gilligan Rowe & Associates partners had gathered and pledged help. The deceased was my friend, not a GRA client. But when a partner at GRA needs help, all GRA partners stand together (that's the wonderful thing about this firm).
Within four hours I had visited my friend's business and spoken with his staff. Every staff member was in shock but every one of them agreed they'd help.
The Game Plan
The first job was to secure the technology in the business. This was not easy. No one in the business had any idea of the passwords the deceased used. This of course made our second job harder.
The staff (all 58 of them) had to be paid the following day. So now we had a situation where we had no access to money because we had no access to technology. If things weren't bad enough, word was spreading within the industry and we had staff asking us what was going on, were they still employed, should they still go to their jobs tomorrow and would they get paid.
We had to come up with a solution quickly. We scrambled and managed to deal with the computer issue but it was pretty stressful at the time.
The next issue we had to deal with was the staff. All human beings like some semblance of order and continuity of staff was a question on everyone's mind. So we called a staff meeting and amongst tears, told all the staff it was business as usual.
A serious issue that we had to deal with was how to protect the deceased's business. One of the competitors was already visiting the business's clients and offering his services. We dealt with this by putting in a temporary CEO and getting that CEO and the lead salesman in the business out visiting the clients, assuring them that despite the awful set of circumstances before us, the business would go on.
The last really urgent issue we tackled was trying to ascertain what assets the deceased actually had. Turns out he had a trust, but that trust contained both his personal assets and his business assets, and debt was completely cross-secured. Our investigation revealed that there was life insurance. We were all thankful for this because that would at least take care of some of the debt.
On closer checking, however, our hopes were dashed... The deceased had cancelled his life insurance because he was in the midst of taking out new policies with another insurance provider. We looked at this issue and decided to brief his lawyers on what we felt had to be done.
At that point, we all thought we'd done what we could, so we returned to our own company and got down to the business of dealing with our own clients' affairs.
Lessons Learned and Checklist
A couple of days later all three Gilligan Rowe & Associates partners discussed what could have been done differently. You see, we often look at situations in an attempt to improve the services we offer to our clients. We came up a few points and think that if these things had been done, dealing with this death would have been so much easier.
1. Write down somewhere the name of your bank account numbers and passwords. Keep this document secret. Put it with your lawyer or your accountant or better still, both professionals. Stipulate that the document is only to be opened and read upon your death.
2. Write a note to either your spouse, your lawyer or your accountant. Tell them what steps should be taken on your death. For example, does someone owe you some money which hasn't been recorded in say your financial statements but which you want collected on your death? Do you want to be an organ donor? Write your wishes down so they are clear. Again, stipulate that the document should only be opened and read upon your death.
3. Ensure you have a current Will and that your lawyer, accountant and your spouse have a copy of that Will. Let us help you if you don't have a Will or need one updated.4. Never cancel a life insurance policy without having another one in place.
5. Keep a copy of your life insurance policy with your lawyer, accountant or spouse.
6. Ensure the life insurance policy is in the names of the trustees of your family trust.
7. Have a trust but make sure personal and business assets aren't mixed up. For example, put personal assets such as your family home in your family trust and keep your business assets, such as the shares in your business in your trading trust.
8. Have a current memorandum of wishes for each of your trusts. Tell your surviving trustees in your memorandum of wishes exactly what you want done with the assets of the trust when you die.
9. Leave a copy of your current memorandum of wishes with your lawyer, accountant and survivor.
10. Have a game plan for your business. What exactly should happen on your death? Who should be put in the driving seat until your trustees or your executors can handle things? Write this down in detail, because if you have a thriving business, this plan is going to be absolutely invaluable in ensuring your business survives after your death.
11. Leave a set of house keys, business keys, etc with a friend so that someone has access to your business and your home to feed your pets and water your pot plants. You might have passed on but your pets and plants are still here and still need care.
I'm sure that there are many more tips we could follow. The above isn't meant to be a comprehensive list. It's just a list of suggestions to make life a little easier for those left behind so that we can get on with the business of grieving.
Of course we at Gilligan Rowe can help with any or all of the items on this checklist. For a confidential and no-obligation discussion on any of these points including trusts, wills, insurance or asset planning advice, please contact us.
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