A little planning now can be a big help later

Do you remember Prince died without a will? Other famous people have died without a will. You may not have a large or complicated estate, but it’s important to plan for what happens after you die. People affected by a death without a will often say that the person intended to make a will, but never did.

Estate planning goes beyond a will. While researching articles on estate planning, I found advice on steps you can take to make the process of passing assets to those you want them easier. (This article is not legal advice.)

Inventory your valuables

Think beyond monetary value to include sentimental value. When doing so, consider who may want a particular item and include the person’s name in your inventory. This includes your home, vehicles, land, and “everyday objects” that represent memories or are important to a person, such as using tools together, cooking together, jewelry, or storytelling family linked to an object.

List your accounts

The list may be longer than you think. Bank accounts, life insurance policies, savings bonds, CDs and income – not only your job but also social security; a company, government or military pension; 401(k), etc As you make the list or gather documents, include contact information for everyone.

Review the beneficiaries identified on your accounts

Make sure the information is up to date. Is there an ex-spouse on an account or a deceased person or did you leave this blank for later decision? Contact the company if you need to update the documents. Speak to the company’s expert to understand what your beneficiaries need to present upon your death for the transfer. For savings bonds, if you haven’t already, see TreasuryDirect.gov appoint a second person on the surety.

With the proper designations, assets can be transferred without probate.

List your debts

Even if there is no outstanding debt or loan, include a list of credit cards. Know what is required to close an account or remove a name in the event of death.

Consider family needs

Do you need a tutor for young children? Do you have the right amount and type of life insurance?

Document medical wishes

This June 12 Albuquerque Journal column included detailed information about documenting your wishes for end-of-life care.

make a will

Everyone over the age of 18 should have a will. Put the will in a safe place and give a copy of your documents to the person you have identified as the executor. Inform the appropriate people of the whereabouts of the will.

If there is no will, the law on intestacy will apply.

Spouse, no children, spouse will inherit.

Children, no spouse, children will inherit.

Spouse and children, the law provides for the distribution of inheritances.

New Mexico does not have an estate or inheritance tax.

make funeral plans

Tell your family about your wishes. Contact the organization that will take care of your funeral. Know the costs and how they will be paid.

Identify a charity that mourners can consider sending a donation on your behalf.

Things the family should consider

The number of certified death certificates needed will depend on the list of assets and accounts. Some institutions will want certified death certificates, while others will accept a copy. Having to apply for an additional certified death certificate at a later date could delay transfers.

If there are survivor benefits on the retirement income, establish a withholding tax.

Writing an obituary can be a challenge. It can also help with the grieving process. Think about how to involve the family in the process. In times of stress, no one can remember all the important points to include.


Probate is the legal process of obtaining legal authority to act on behalf of the estate of a deceased person, officially known as the deceased.

The estate is distributed according to the deceased’s will or, if the deceased had no will, according to New Mexico’s intestate succession laws. Probate court appoints legally qualified persons, called personal representatives, to manage and settle the affairs of the deceased. Personal representatives distribute the assets of a deceased’s estate to the legitimate beneficiaries. They may be heirs, legatees named in a valid and current will or creditors. For more information, visit bernco.gov/probate-court/welcome-to-the-court/.

There is also free legal help for people age 55 and older from the New Mexico State Bar by calling 1-800-876-6657 and online at sbnm.org/For-Public/I-Need-a-Lawyer/Legal-Resources-for-the-Elderly.

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