Dedicated in loving memory to Rosaline “Rhonda” Ransom Lee, who was tragically murdered on
May 26, 2013. Rhonda left three children, a loving family and many friends to mourn her cherished memory.
Estate planning is often an uncomfortable task to tackle, especially if you are leading a healthy, happy life. Planning for unexpected events means proactively documenting your wishes and legal needs for your estate and your family. Tomorrow is not promised. Although this is something most of us would rather not face, all women should proactively engage in estate planning to protect their families and assets.
The peace of mind that comes from knowing your affairs are in order and your loved ones are protected and provided for is invaluable. While this type of planning can be emotionally charged, keeping a pragmatic perspective can help you plan responsibly.
Rhonda’s Rules is a checklist developed in response to the unexpected and tragic loss of a loving mother, sister, daughter and friend. Rhonda’s family was forced to navigate bureaucratic red tape to protect her three children, while dealing with their grief. Rhonda’s sister and my dear friend and sorority sister, Richelle Ransom, will be speaking at IAW’s Power Networking Event in Atlanta, GA on March 21st. She’ll discuss how she picked up the pieces after the loss of her sister. You can register for this event here.
With the help of my IAW colleagues, we created this comprehensive checklist for women to use to prepare for the unthinkable.
- Find a safe and easily accessible place for your important documents
- Write down information about your lawyer, accountant, financial planner or financial advisor, including his/her contact information
- Identify and document the location of home desks, hidden cabinets and drawers, home safe with combination or locks and any other non-obvious document storage locations. Include name, address and keys for storage lockers
- Specify who should have access to private/personal information (computers, passwords, finances, etc.)
- Gather recent tax returns
- Label your keys for your car(s), office, house, vacation home, boat, etc.
- Discuss plans for death with your heirs and / or close family / friends to prevent disputes and let them know your expectations
- If you wish to be buried, buy a burial plot or secure a mausoleum
- Plan your funeral/memorial service
The following are documents everyone needs. They should be given to your lawyer or your personal designee:
- A valid will (updated as your life and circumstances change)
- A “Testamentary Trust” for any minor children (if necessary)
- A durable power-of-attorney to direct assets and investments
- A living will or a healthcare proxy (medical power of attorney)
- A letter detailing what you want done with your personal possessions after your death
- Example: If you want a niece to have your engagement ring or your godchild to have your precious pet, put it in this letter
LISTS TO MAKE
- List all irreplaceable items that are locked up (either in your home or in a safety deposit box) including jewelry, heirlooms and documents such as marriage license, birth certificates, passports, stocks, bonds and death certificates. Make a photocopy of those documents for your household files and consider taking pictures of the jewelry or other items
- List of log-in credentials and passwords. (Don’t put this information in your will, which becomes public information. Put it in a separate letter.) Be sure to include:
- Personal website log-in information
- Social Media (i.e., Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Tumblr, etc.)
- Email (i.e., Gmail, Yahoo Mail, Hotmail, AOL, etc.)
- Websites (i.e., IAW, LinkedIn, eBay, Amazon, PayPal, Netflix, etc.)
- Devices: tablets, iPods, phones, desktop computers, laptops
- List the dates and places of birth for yourself and all minor children
- List all of your pets; include their veterinarian’s name and your pets’ vaccination history
- List relatives’ names and contact information
- List employers with dates of employment and employee ID if applicable
- List all property, mortgage information, utilities with names of companies, account numbers with schedules of payments
- List an inventory of items worth $100 or more
- List name and contact information for the building superintendent or community manager where you live
- List all regular deliveries such as newspapers, milk and all regular service providers such as lawn services, waste pickup and snow removal
ADDITIONAL FINANCIAL LISTS & TASKS
- Review your life insurance policy and make sure it will cover all of your funeral expenses. Purchase additional insurance you might wish to carry
- Create a list of life insurance, annuities, and disability insurance, including issuer, policy number, broker and contact information
- Take inventory of non-physical assets (savings accounts, gift cards, store credits, secret stash of cash) and create a map or outline of where your money is kept, saved, held or deposited
- Outline entitlements predicated by your death (brokerage accounts, 401k, pensions, IRA assets, trusts, bank accounts, life insurance policies, long-term care policies, homeowner/auto/disability/health policies)
- Make a list of open credit cards / debts / auto loans / home equity lines of credit (do this by running a free credit report online)
- Contact your credit card company(ies) to create “Authorized Account Managers” who are empowered to handle basic maintenance on your credit card account
- Make a list of organizations that you belong to (IAW, AHA, AARP, Sorority, College Alumni, etc.) or that you support, as many organizations have accidental life insurance benefits
- Review / update the designated beneficiary for all of your accounts / policies at least every two years
- Review / update the designated beneficiary for all your accounts / policies whenever a major life event occurs (marriage, divorce, birth or death)
- Investigate whether accounts can be set up to “transfer upon death” to avoid probate issues and costs being taken out of estate
- Meet with an attorney or financial advisor to set up the appropriate trusts in the name of beneficiaries to allow for less of the estate to be taxed or distributed by the court
IF YOU HAVE CHILDREN
- Appoint a Custodial Guardian for the child’s “person” and for their “property” for any minor children to avoid court-appointed guardians
- If you are single and you don’t want the child’s other biological parent to be the Custodial Guardian, you must document why they are unfit or abusive and thus not a desirable guardian
- Create a list of people (in order) you want as the Custodial Guardian in case your first choice is not available or deemed inappropriate by the court
- Create a list of your child(ren)’s doctors and healthcare providers:
- Create list of your child(ren)’s medical conditions, medication and dosage
- Write a letter detailing any special circumstances that you would want your child(ren) to know in your absence:
- Birth (i.e., adoption, IVF, donor egg, donor sperm, surrogacy)
- Genetic tendencies
- History of mental health / illness, heart disease, cancer in family
- Family Tree / History
- Think about all of your job responsibilities and determine what you could do to help your employer and co-workers fulfill these responsibilities if you were to suddenly and unexpectedly leave your job
- Document the policy / procedures of key workflow or key employees
- If you own your business, meet with a lawyer and have a document drawn up that explicitly says what will happen to your company if you are no longer capable of running it
- Develop a business continuity plan to mitigate the risk caused by sudden death, natural disaster or an act of God
** Send lists and / or documents to the estate administrator (dated and signed), give one to your spouse / family member and keep one for your records
** Disclaimer: This list is not exhaustive. Please consult the appropriate professionals for advice pertaining to your specific needs.
We want to hear from you. Are you prepared for the unexpected? Share your experiences, advice and comments below.
As soon as your emergency is over, you have to to continue business operations and try to return to normal as quickly aas doable.
Absolutely. It’s so important to stay on track. It’s impossible to know when or how things will happen, but at least having a list like this can help with organization during rough times.
I just saw this story on “Justice by any means” and it really touched me deeply. So I decided to do more research on the Rhonda’s Rules and obtained more knowledge from it to allow it to help me along my journey through life. Thank you for this resources.
You’re welcome. It’s a great resource for women to have. Thanks for your feedback!
Hi! I am Asia 26 year old fromMemphis, Tn. I have to say Rhonda story is so similar to my sisters story in so many way and Richelle reminds me so much of myself is crazy I also had visions of my sisters death and just wanted answers I’ve never gotten.. My sister died at 25 and left behind 3 children. I wanna thank God for you all story because you touched me in so many ways.. Thank God for a strong sister like Richelle determined to get answers with the help of God given gifts.. I just want you to know Richelle you’ve motivated me to tell my story which has been so hard for me you said, “only way your story will get heard if you tell it, you have to let them live through you.” I found my sister dead in her home with her kids just walk around not knowing what happened, but I knew something wasn’t right because she was tucked in nicely where she layed on the couch. I asked the officer to look into it over and over.. Told them things I found out but never got help from them.. Why do we have to settle without knowing what happen to our love ones in most cases? I just wanna thank you for the encouraging words lastnite and you’ve motivated me in so many ways to push and redirect my pain into something great.. Thank God for you and your family I cried tears like Rhonda was my sister because I felt that pain all over. I pray for her children that God covers them and guide them. My nephews are also being raised by my mom and myself and its so hard but thank God for his strength.. Blessing from my family to your ❤ thanks for allowing God to use you and inspiring another young sister to do the same. Thanks to your amazing friend Star Jones
Asia, our hearts go out to you and your family. Thank you for sharing such a personal experience in your life with us. May you always draw strength from your network. We’re here for you <3
I saw Rhonda’s story and decided to view Rhonda’s Rules. Thanks for doing this I have three kids and I am not prepared for this part of the future.
No problem, Regina. Thank you, we appreciate your feedback. It’s important for women to be prepared (as much as they can be) for the unexpected.