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From Grief Comes A Mission To Make Estate Planning Less Daunting

by NPR Staff
Mar 12, 2013 (Morning Edition)

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Chanel Reynolds, shown here with her children Gabriel (center) and Lyric, started an estate planning website to help others get their affairs in order.

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Estate planning may seem like a pain, but imagine the mess you leave to those managing your affairs if you don't draw up a will or get life insurance.

"It takes really just a few hours now, rather than a pile of hours and thousands of dollars to do it later when you really need it done," says Chanel Reynolds, who created a website geared to help people get their affairs in order.

The Seattle mother of two launched the bluntly written, one-stop estate planning site after her husband was fatally injured in a biking accident. On top of grief, she faced stress and costs because there was no will or any of the other legal documents needed to handle a loved one's assets.

"I really wanted to be focusing on what the doctors were saying and taking care of my children when instead I was just overwhelmed by this pile of questions about legal stuff and finances and probate courts, and it was occasionally the thing that would just put me over the edge," Reynolds tells Morning Edition host Renee Montagne.

Her site — which is a NSFW riff on "get your stuff together" — features a checklist and templates for some key documents, including a will, living will and power of attorney. It also suggests compiling online account usernames and passwords and putting these key documents in a safe or scanning and uploading them to a password-protected site.

Reynolds also suggests setting aside emotional items like photos of yourself, "so that when you're gone people can touch them and hold them and feel them and remember you as well."

For wills, Reynolds notes that lawyers can help, but there are also affordable online software options. "I didn't realize that creating a will, you don't need a lawyer to do it for you," she says. "In most states you need two witnesses and/or someone to notarize it. And it can save your family weeks and weeks and hundreds of hours of pain and confusion and legal costs that you probably can't afford."

She suggests that baby boomers, especially, prepare the documents so others won't have to.

"It is really hard to go clean up after someone," Reynolds says, "so not only do we need to take of this for ourselves, we have to really start thinking about having the conversation with our parents, these boomers, because otherwise we're the ones going out there and taking care of it for them."

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Get Your Documents Together

Here are some of the key documents that Chanel Reynolds suggests getting in order sooner rather than later. There are also other details to compile and make accessible to those handling your affairs:
  • Birth certificate
  • Bank names and checking, savings and other bank account information
  • Retirement account information
  • Credit card numbers
  • Mortgage information
  • Passwords for home computers, cell phone, email accounts, social networking sites and online accounts like Netflix and Amazon
(The website is based on Reynolds' experiences, and includes a disclaimer that it is for "informational purposes only and does not constitute legal, tax or financial planning advice.")

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