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Leaving your best wishes behind
By Gene Walden
From the Minneapolis Star Tribune)

When they compared notes, Jay Carlson and Richard Hegener realized that the emotional and organizational nightmare they faced when their fathers died was probably not all that different from the scenarios millions of grieving Americans face each year.

Fast friends since their childhood days in Richfield, Carlson and Hegener used that shared experience as the inspiration for what call they call “LegacyWish,” a “digital safe deposit box” used to record personal records, current information and future wishes for family and friends.

Carlson, a co-owner of Wallace Carlson printing in Minnetonka, and Hegener, the owner of shampoo maker Custom Formulations in Cologne, say their fathers both left their affairs in disarray, with many questions unanswered. “We never knew what my father’s wishes were,” recalls Hegener. “There were so many problems—including some jealousy among family members—that I decided I didn’t want my own kids to ever have to go through that.”

Carlson faced a similar challenge trying to untangle his father’s financial affairs. “He was so disorganized that when I was going through his belongings, I found a note on a napkin in a shoebox for $15,000 that someone owed him.” Carlson was able to collect the debt, but the massive effort it took to sort through the estate convinced Carlson that there must be a better way.

The pair created LegacyWish (www.legacywish.com), a computer software program, not only to help organize, simplify and streamline the estate process but also to provide some emotional guidance to the family and friends you leave behind.

LegacyWish includes sections for legal information (such as Social Security number, driver’s license, birth certificate, marriage certificate, divorce decree, will and living trust, power of attorney and legal representatives), medical information and financial information. It also includes a section for spiritual information (spiritual leader, cemetery plot location, headstone preference, funeral home preference, burial or cremation preference, obituary information, and family history) and practical information, such as personal property and service providers.

There is also a section in the program for “ethical will” which gives users a chance to write down the values they want to pass onto their heirs. “I have some very definite values as a person and as a businessman,” says Hegener, “and I want to share those values and that perspective with my children and grandchildren.

“What amazed us as we started to put this together,” adds Hegener, “was that no one had done anything like this before.” LegacyWish just hit the market this year, and is available at www.legacywish.com for $39.95. Carlson and Hegener are also trying to market it through associations and financial institutions. They recently reached a cooperative distribution agreement with the American Automobile Association (AAA).

Trust questions
The recent column on “Put your trust in trusts” generated some queries from readers regarding their own trusts. Here are a couple of those questions:

I have a revocable trust for my two daughters who are now adults and I currently use a bank trust department as trustee. I am considering eliminating the bank trustee and having one of my daughters serve as the trustee. My estate is not very large. Do you think one needs to use an entity such as a bank trust department as the trustee?

An outside trustee may be valuable if you have a divided family or a complex estate, but if your daughters are on good terms and are competent to handle the trust duties, you could probably name one of them as the trustee.  “Bank trust departments have some advantages—they don’t die or get sick,” says Eden Prairie estate attorney Tim Davis. “And they bring some expertise to the table, but for a smaller estate, an outside trustee such as a bank trust department probably isn’t necessary if there is a competent relative available to serve as trustee.”

My father-in-law had a living trust and passed away earlier this year. The attorney who prepared the trust has provided an estimate for assisting with the distribution process, but some of the family members feel we need multiple quotes. Is it best to work with the attorney who originally set up the trust? If not, what do you look for in selecting a legal representative?

Most people tend to use the same attorney who drafted the trust, but it wouldn’t hurt to get some bids from other attorneys and other professionals who specialize in settling estates. On the low end, attorneys may charge $1,500 if the estate is fairly simple. The larger and more complex the estate, the higher the fees. In fact, with a large estate, the fees could climb into the tens of thousands of dollars.

You don’t necessarily need an attorney to handle the estate duties. An accountant or financial planner who specializes in estate planning may be able to help you. Or you may not need an outside advisor at all if you or another family member feels competent to handle the estate.

“Normally you would only need help with a couple of matters, such as selling real estate and dealing with estate taxation issues,” says Davis. “If the estate is fairly normal, you probably won’t need a lot of outside help.”

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