Protecting your loved ones with end-of-life planning

The school year is so hectic that public education employees do not have a lot of time to focus on their general overall legal health. However, when public education employees are able to find time, one of the most important steps they can take is to make plans to take care of their loved ones after they pass away. Although this topic may seem morbid to think about, by taking some simple steps now, you can guarantee that your family won’t have to struggle with complicated legal matters after you pass away. It is particularly important for people with children, people with a significant amount of property, or people who provide care for parents, siblings or other family members to put end-of life-plans in place.

What happens without a plan?
When people pass away without doing any pre-planning, the court system must divide their property. This process, known as probate, takes all of the individual’s property, money, and accounts and determines who gets them, according to a standard set of rules. Because probate requires the assistance of the court system, it can be very slow, and often family members must retain attorneys to ensure everything is handled correctly. Compiling the grief from a loved one passing with the duration and expense of probate is absolutely worth avoiding if you can.

End-of-life planning 101
The good news is that many of the basic steps on the end-of-life planning process are simple, don’t require an attorney, and can be completed with a phone or computer from the comfort of your own home. The first thing to do is make sure that any life insurance policies or retirement accounts have the correct beneficiaries listed. Generally, this just takes making a phone call or logging onto your benefit provider’s website to ensure that you have the beneficiaries listed, along with any relevant contact information. You can also reach out to PSRS or PEERS at (800) 392-6848 to discuss options for how your retirement will be handled, should you pass away.

Moving to a slightly more complicated process, Missouri allows for a variety of types of property to transfer automatically to survivors without requiring any court or other legal intervention (generally known as “probate”). Any bank accounts that you have, including checking and savings, can have a “payable-ondeath” designation made so that control of the account would automatically move to your chosen individual. Generally, this can be done with a simple form that your bank can provide, although it will likely need to have a notarized signature. Similarly, ownership of a vehicle can be automatically transferred through a “transfer on death” designation made on the title of the vehicle. The Missouri Department of Revenue has forms for creating or modifying the designation, although a small fee does apply.

Last but not least, it is a good idea to create a list of all of your various financial accounts and insurance policies and either keep it somewhere where family could find it or entrust it to someone for safekeeping. If you have a safe deposit box, this can be a perfect place to store the list so long as you let your family know about the location of the deposit box and the location of the key. In our modern era, you may also want to also include things like passcodes for your phone or important online account usernames and passwords so that family can access your electronic information.

MNEA Member Benefits will preparation

If you want someone to assist you through this process, or if you have a more complicated set of plans, you should consider getting in touch with an attorney who practices estates, wills and trusts. Missouri NEA has partnered with a group of attorneys across Missouri to handle the personal legal matters of our members, and you can find that list at Not only are these attorneys familiar with handling the special legal circumstances of public education employees, but they have agreed to provide members discounts on a variety of legal subjects, including wills and estates. If you choose to use one of these attorneys to create a will or other end-of-life plans, and you notify them you are an MNEA member, you are entitled to a free 30-minute consultation and a 30 percent discount on any costs for creating your documents.

Regardless of how you choose to proceed, every step you take today is a gift you are giving to your loved ones for after you pass away, and that sounds like a good use of a summer to me.

by Vincenzo Iuppa, Associate general counsel
Something Better, summer 2021