Color of Money Live: How to create an exit plan

Oct 31, 2019

Welcome to a weekly discussion about your money hosted by Michelle Singletary, nationally syndicated personal finance columnist for The Washington Post.

This week, Michelle was joined by Rhonda Green, author of "My Exit Plan: Getting My House in Order." Read Michelle's column about it: "You will die. Don’t exit leaving a hot mess behind."

Michelle's latest columns:
- For many families, the costs of long-term care are horrifying
- For seniors hoping to age in place, the cost of in-home care just got a lot more expensive

Did you know: "Knowledge isn't power. The right knowledge is power." So, stay informed.

Read & share Michelle Singletary’s Color of Money Column on Wednesdays and Sundays.

Follow Michelle Singletary on Twitter (@SingletaryM) and Facebook.

Thanks for joining me today. There are already a lot of questions but I do want to point out again that I have a guest, Rhonda Green. She's terrific and so experienced with helping individuals and families plan funerals. So please tap her for tips. But she is not an attorney so keep that in mind. However, she's seen quite a bit in her time. So many people fail to plan for their death and as a result leave behind a hot mess  and it's not just about the money. She's had to stop fights on the choice of burial or a casket. 

Rhonda has a lot of stories so ask away. 

As always, I love your Thursday Testimonies. Have you paid off any debt or met a savings goal? If so, I want to hear from you.

Let's get started. 

Do wills/trusts have to be registered somewhere? If I get one done, how does any court/bank, etc know that it's real after I have died?

You are not required to register a will; however, it is recommended that you do so.  Registering your will ensures that the court has your final document. The bank will take directions from the court.  As for a trust, the person you designate to be your trustee should have all of the information concerning your trust in order to implement it.  Additionally the attorney will also have a copy, which will prove its accuracy.

Unfortunately there have been cases where a family member has created a new will for an elderly or disoriented person and had them sign it without their knowledge or awareness of what they were signing.  Cases like this may often go before the court to prove the validity of the will.  If it's proven that the person was not capable of making that decision, the court may use the last document that was registered.

How do I join?

Hi! I'm Michelle's producer. Thanks for joining us. You can ask a question in the live chat by clicking the 'Submit Your Question' link at the top of the chat.  

Hi Michelle and Rhonda, I'm planning to buy Rhonda's book; it sounds like just what I need. My Mom, thankfully, is still healthy and lives independently at the age of 93 in an elderly housing apartment in St. Louis, Missouri. I'm named as executor in her will, although I live in Pennsylvania. She has no real assets, other than a car, which she still drives (!) to the nearby grocery store. The car is in the process of being jointly titled with my youngest brother, so it will transition smoothly out of probate upon her eventual passing. However, I am already thinking ahead to the eventual time of her passing. My Mom has credit card debt, because one of her pleasures is ordering things online through QVC and stores like J. C. Penney. Her credit card debt is just shy of $25,000 (I know ... crazy!). Upon her passing, I know that her creditors will have a claim on her "estate," but there is really nothing that she owns other than a collection of nice antiques in her apartment. Will these things have to be sold to satisfy the credit card debt? I want to do the right thing and, of course, I plan to call an auction company to liquidate these things, even though my brothers and I would like to keep them. I just want to be sure that such personal possessions are actually considered estate assets in the probate process to be used to pay down the credit card debt. Thanks for any help!

The rule varies from state to state, but I'm quite sure that you both will be entitled to a portion of her personal property, if not all.  However, if the items are sold the funds would go into her estate bank account and, yes, the creditors would be able to make a claim against her estate. 

You are right to plan ahead for this. And yes, any assets including furniture, antiques, etc. are considered part of the estate.

Typically, except for funeral expenses creditors have to be paid before assets are distributed to heirs. And as her executor you are responsible to make sure this happens. You may also be required after you open the estate to place notices in local paper to give creditors a chance to make a claim. But they can only get what's there. Many heirs incorrectly believe they personally are responsible for the debts. They are not, unless they've cosigned for any of the debt. 

You may also want to consult an attorney about what you need to do. For example, my mother lived in PA and my sister, who was designated to handler her affairs after she died,  had to get bonded in PA because she lived out-of-state. 

I can't get enough of your stories Rhonda. Can you tell the folks a few of the crazy scenes you've witnessed or had to mediate when it comes to not having an exit plan?

One story that I left out of the book ... a gentleman died in South Carolina.  He had been separated from his wife for over 20 years and living with his girlfriend.  His girlfriend thought that she would be the beneficiary of all of his assets.  His estranged wife showed up at the funeral home only to find out that he never divorced her and that she would receive all of his assets as the wife.  All hell broke out down south!!  The wife offered to let the girlfriend stay in the house, but the girlfriend was so angry at her lover of 20 years that she didn't attend the funeral and went back to her hometown never to be heard from again.  The moral of this story is Beyoncé says, "put a ring on it," we say, "put your name on it!."

longtime fan but that piece on inhome care killed it, personal without being hokey, helpful without being mawkish, do more of that pls Ms Singletary.

Thanks. I'll be doing more on long-term care because it's such an important issue and so sad for so many people. 

Read: For many families, the costs of long-term care are horrifying

Also another column: For seniors hoping to age in place, the cost of in-home care just got a lot more expensive

Where do you register? Probate Court?

Yes Probate Court.  Most states have a Register of Wills office.  Check with your local court.

Can/should the POA and executor of an estate be the same person or is it better to get a third party as executor if, say, the POA is a child?

Yes, they can be one in the same person.  However, if you have more than one child, I would discuss it will all of the children so they will not give that child a hard way to go.  If you feel there may be an issue between your children, designate a third party.

Also, can I just add one thing when choosing who to select as your executor (And please note this title may vary depending on your state. For example, in Maryland it's your personal representative)?

Don't just pick the kid who is a lawyer or doctor or whatever. Even a financial professional. What they do for a living may not translate well into acting in the best interest of your estate.

I've seen people who are great accountants but horrible at managing their personal finances. You also want to pay attention to people's personalities. Don't appoint the adult child who is condescending to his or her siblings, which can then rile them up and result in lawsuits. Think about who might inspire unity. Just saying. From experience!

I'm trying to figure out how to simplify things for my son who is active duty. He's our only child and knows that EOL (end of life) responsibility will fall on him. As I try to imagine what the future holds, I don't want to burden him because of our inertia or inaction. Creating an "Exit Plan" has a lot of moving parts. Where should we start and how can we stay motivated? What don't we know about planning that we should? What advisors should we have? We already have the advance directives, knowing a medical event will usually signal the beginning of the end.

I would start with making the decision and the purchase for your final destination, whether it is a funeral, burial plot or cremation. Second, make sure that you have set the process for transferring your assets to him.  Taking care of those two steps will take care of all of the business of dying so that you can focus on living.  

I would recommend you hire an attorney, who can help you be sure to put in place all the right documents. You do not have to do this on your own. Now, I now there are a lot of penny-pinchers in this forum but it's important to spend money for the right things and making sure your estate is planned correctly is one of those things. And this is especially so for your son who is serving our country. Make it as easy as possible for him by having the right documents in place. Also, involve him in the process. It might help that on a home visit he go to the attorney with you. 

And I know the next question how much?

The cost of estate planning varies depending on where you live and how complicated your estate is. So shop around for price quotes. I've seen lawyers do simple estate planning for a few hundred dollars to a few thousand. 

One way to hold down the hourly rate is to have all your documents assembled and ready for review. Figure out what you want to ask before you go. Your attorney isn't a therapist so keep the conversations short and to the point. 

Enjoyed your column on Get Your House in Order - Now Before You Die. I suspect the reason that many people don't have a will is the high cost. I have been shopping to update my will which I thought would be straight forward...everything goes to my wife and son. I have been told by two lawyers that I need a will and trust that would cost me $4500. Hoping high costs will be discussed during your Oct 30th Wash Post Discussions. Richard Lawrence

It depends on what assets you have. If you have one property, a bank account, and maybe a few vehicles that would be simple enough to be covered in a will.  However, if you have multiple properties and maybe a business that may require a trust.  Keep in mind that if you and your spouse both died at the same time (unfortunately), your son should be the contingent beneficiary. 

Trusts are expensive and are usually required when there are multiple assets and heirs. 

I hope this helps.

Here's the column if you missed it: You will die. Don’t exit leaving a hot mess behind.

I agree with Rhonda. You do not need a trust if your estate is fairly simple. I don't have a trust. We've got a home, cars, bank and retirement accounts and household goods. Pretty simple. 

Keep shopping around and tell the attorneys you just want a simple will, plus the documents that go with that such as medical directive, etc. 


Decades ago, my mother told me that the cemetery where family members were usually buried was having a plot sale. She and many family members bought plots . Like a lot of plots!! LOL!!! I never asked anymore about it. Fast forward decades later, we are making funeral arrangements for my mother. Lo and behold, we found out that our dear mother bought plots for all of us, children, grandchildren and spouses. One item checked off for us! LOL!

Wow!  That's great.

If you have more plots than family or if family members choose to be buried elsewhere, maybe consider selling a few and cover the costs of the actual funeral.

I am retiring (for the 2nd time) today--no mortgage, no debt! And two of my big 'to do' items are cleaning up the mess of a house for when I die, and finally getting the wills/POAs/Health directives in order for my husband and myself. HOORAY! But on a different note--no kids. What do I do with all this STUFF? What are good choices for giving stuff away? Funeral plans already made and stored in my Bible--including my choices of music!

Awesome!  Great to hear you are debt free.  You can will your personal property to a local charity.

You may want to give someone a copy of your funeral plans just in case they can't find your bible.  

You may also want to sign up for the Washington Post's new newsletter series, 'Bold School,' which discusses life after 50. Its first edition tackles how to tackle clutter and items in your home and has a lot of handy tips. 

By the way Yu is my chat producer, helping to field your questions. So thank Yu for the link.


This is simply not true. Not anywhere in the country that I am aware of and I am an attorney. You will be able to keep things that are of no value in an auction. Think family photos, since they have no value to anyone but you. Used clothes are on the fence but a designer purse or high end shoes with little wear will have to be sold. Same thing for anything with the tags still on it. All jewelry will have to be sold. Paintings - sold. Furniture - sold. Housewares - sold. All of it. You might be able to get a professional valuation and get the credit card companies to agree to take less if you pay them quickly, in which case, you wouldn't have to sell everything, but you will have to provide the cash that would have come from the sales.

Thanks for the clarification. As I said Rhonda is not an attorney and her intention was to communicate that heirs can get personal property after bills/creditors are paid. 

I also made that point. 

At any rate, thank you for your professional input. 

And let's be real, many heirs walk off with stuff without doing the right thing and making sure creditors are paid. 

Thanks for the chat. I want to encourage readers to, as they go about planning financially for end of life, to also complete advance directives, living wills, and health care POAs. Types and requirements vary by state, AARP has good resource. It can be difficult, but important, to start these conversations and complete these documents before it's absolutely necessary.

Thanks. And a good attorney would make sure all these documents are done as part of your estate planning.

This is slightly off topic, but do you (or your readers) have any recommendations for reasonably-priced home renovations companies in the DMV (leaning toward the D) who do quality work using quality products in a timely manner. Getting the work I need done well without having to deal with problems later will definitely make my retirement more pleasurable. Thank you!

Question put out there. But I have the most luck in asking friends and family who have had work done. I also use Home Advisor and have found some good contractors, company to repair my broken garage door and fix wood furniture. I get at least three quotes and call references. 

Hi Michelle, I separated from my ex about 4 years ago, and as I am sure we all know, getting a divorce is tough - financially (I won't get into the other stuff - ha, different chat). I'm so happy to report that I am getting my house in order, finally! After a few years of just scraping by (but still contributing to my 401k) I have saved over $10K, and with my new partner, we are planning to purchase a house in 2021. Going from nearly $0 to 10K (which really was just the past two years) has felt so great! I'm enjoying watching my savings go! I also just bumped up the monthly savings to help it grow faster. This in addition to upping my 401K contribution to 10% this year (with a 6% employer match) I feel like I'm starting to really get things moving in the right direction. Also, just wanted to give you a shout of thanks for discussing renting vs. buying. Where I live is very expensive, and home ownership is a high bar. Housing is almost cost-prohibitive. We've been discussing whether really it is our best option, but are still saving as if that's the goal. (she/CO/early 40's)

Thank you for sharing our testimony and so glad things are going well now.

Dear Michelle (and all of the passionate chatters out there) – thank you so much for taking my question for Sunday’s column! What a surprise! As the question was originally submitted on the fly for a chat, I wanted to clarify a couple of things. Yes – some of the loan has been paid back, some is outstanding. So many themes came to the surface in the comments that it would take a series of articles to get through them all. Yes, there is a big difference between someone who lost a job (or is young and trying to find a job) who needs an honest leg up, and a person who is underemployed and not particularly looking, asks for help with luxury items and is stubbornly opaque about their situation and needs – enough to cause alarm. There is also the matter of potential elder abuse – briefly touched on in the column, and a very serious topic. A family member who needs help with medical expenses should be a no brainer, but what about someone who lets their medical coverage lapse and suddenly has a $300,000 bill? Where does the responsibility end? My conclusion is there is a lot of pain out there – post-recession, many have not recovered. Younger people are facing a very steep climb. Those near retirement are facing healthcare and support care costs that I can barely process. Thanks again to all for thoughtful questions and analysis – the attacks and darker comments didn’t help but did illustrate to me how much pain is out there.

See, folks as I say often, don't be upset if I don't get to your question during the chat. It may end up in a column, which is the case here. So, thank you for coming back with more details. I figured this was a care of irresponsibility. But lots of trolls in the comment section. 

If you missed that column here it is: Stop doling out money to your adult children. It doesn’t really help.


I assume the first poster has tried to convince her mother to not buy so much. Over $25K in debt! I wouldn't be able to sleep at night. So here's my question and it probably needs a lawyer. If you have power of attorney (and that's a big if) can you contact the cc companies and put a limit on the dollar amount a person can charge? Can you freeze credit so they can't obtain new credit cards? I'm trying to figure out a way kids can minimize the debt their parents rack up and leave for someone else to worry about.

Yes, you may want to contact an attorney.

Any lawyers out there care to help with this answer? 

I suspect this won't help because the mother could just call back and get the credit limit reestablished. 

I wanted to focus on the core of the question but my heart did start beating fast on reading the mother had $25k in credit card debt. That's a problem and not just about the money. Is she lonely? Perhaps there is some dementia, which is interfering with reason. Please have this all checked out. 

Just want to throw in (as I work with estate planning/probate attorneys) that DEFINITELY check in with an attorney in your state regarding how to draw up a will, how probate REALLY works. Some states have very, very simple procedures, others are more complicated, and trusts are by no means a requirement. They have their time and place, but most of the cases I work on, there is not a trust. I happen to work/live in a state with a relatively simple procedure. Also determine if the state has rules about WHERE you can probate, meaning if you die in County A, does it have to be dealt with in that county/city or can it be anywhere in the state. That varies. Some states don't require a bond for an out of state Personal Rep ("executor"); perhaps just a "power of attorney" to the attorney to act w/in the state on one's behalf.

Great tips. Thanks.

Following on your comments about not just picking the kid who is a doctor or lawyer: my parents chose the oldest child as executor and gave her power of attorney. She struggles to manage her own family and day to day life, is terrible with her own finances, lives with serious anxiety that makes her fearful of navigating new situations, etc. Yet my parents seem to believe if they put their faith in her, she will rise to the occasion. As our parents are aging, they are not making good financial decisions (staying in an unstable housing situation and refusing an opportunity to move into rent controlled senior housing, for example). My parents won't discuss this, and the oldest sister is in denial that their health is beginning to fail. What can my siblings and I do to try to be supportive and lay the groundwork for things to go more smoothly when the inevitable happens?

This is exactly what I was talking about. A lot of people chose the eldest because, well, they are the eldest. You might first try to talk to your sister and see if she's willing to relinquish this responsibility. Try and have a family meeting and get this all out in the open. You might also hire someone who works with families such as a professional senior case manager. 

Hello, my parents have named me as their executrix. They are very organized and have give me a copy of the will, made me POA, and created a listing of all accounts and passwords for when I need them. (I'm lucky to have such proactive and organized parents!) They are both in good health at present, so this is a future problem, but what are the first few steps an executor/personal rep has to do after the testator dies? File the will with the court? Get a copy of the death certificate? I have all this great organized info, but I realized that I don't know what my actual responsibilities are. Thanks!

The funeral home will give you a copy of the death certificate, which you will need to file in the jurisdiction where they reside. In most cases, you will need to be appointed by the court to execute their estate.

Keep in mind that you will need to make their final arrangements, if they have not pre-planned.  

Please, please also get help from an attorney. If nothing else a lawyer in your state to help you figure out the order of how things should be done. 

this may be a local thing. In the state where I practiced (years ago) wills and estate law, never heard of such a thing.

This may be new to some states and not done in others.  But in the state of Maryland, you can register your will with the court for a $5 fee.  If your state does not offer this service, I would make sure that the executor and other family members have a certified copy.

When my father died in 2012, he didn’t leave any sort of will or plan. Fortunately I remembered him saying many years before that he wanted to be cremated and have his ashes scattered in a creek he’d played in on the reservation where he grew up. So that’s what we did. Less fortunately, we found out later it’s actually illegal to scatter cremains on Indian land. No one pursued us for it, and clearly my dad’s tribe weren’t in the habit of enforcing the law (the funeral had been advertised on tribal tv and council members attended). And now it’s a quirky family story - Dad skating the rules one last time. But there are laws about cremains, and they need to be a part of your plans.

There are laws about scattering ashes in various states.  So people should check first.

Hello Michelle and Rhonda - I also plan to buy Rhonda's book as I am just getting organized myself. I have limited assets and my husband and I live in Virginia and have one 22 yr old daughter. I have postponed thinking oh there is not much nor complex heirs but I want the transition for her to be as simple as possible. What are the basics documements my husband and I should have?

The documents you need to have:

1. A will, which should cover any money that is due to the deceased after death.

2. A durable power of attorney, which will allow your daughter to make decisions for you when you are unable to make financial decisions for yourself.

3. An advanced directive, which will indicate your medical wishes. 

That should get you started.

Get thee to an attorney. Seriously, people this is one time you need to pay for professional help. 

Rhonda/Michelle, Can you talk some about families not preparing for funeral/burial costs? Life insurance (term) is key as to avoid the Go fund me accounts that I see frequently from family and friends. Thanks Torry

Having to solicit funds from social media clearly shows you have not prepared.  The sad thing is when you go through the hassle of setting up a Go Fund Me and you only get $400, then what do you do?  Also, not being able to properly funeralize your loved one can be very stressful.  If you take care of the business of dying for not only yourself but your parents or children who are not able to do so you will alleviate the stress of having to make an emotional decision under the pressure of time. 

Bottom line, get some life insurance because you will need it one day.

Again, I agree with Rhonda. I know money is tight for a lot of folks. And it isn't that tight for a lot of folks. So, even if you can't afford life insurance to cover all the needs of your dependents at the very least get enough to bury you. OR, if you are a good saver, save enough for a funeral. You can keep the money in a bank account and have a POD (pay on death) beneficiary who you know will use the money to take care of your funeral arrangements. 

A topic near and dear to my heart, but seriously people need to understand and know the responsibilities they have of what taxes needed to be filed after death.

Now estates are required to have an EIN in order to open an estate bank account.  It is the responsibility of the executor of the estate to file the taxes.

Where? How? And wouldn't that be the lawyer's responsibility?

Contact the Probate Court in your state to find out what the procedure is.

In most cases, the lawyer will file your will.  But just in case the lawyer predeceases you, it's better to be safe than sorry. 


Forgive my being morbid, but the parents might want to consider a back-up in case military duty ends tragically.

You should always have a contingent.

Yes, this is prudent. Sad, but prudent. 

My parents had been separated for 7 or 8 years when my mom passed. My mom was living with someone and her and the person's wills both stated that all assets would go to the other, or in case of them dying at the same time (or not changing wills) would be distributed equally to all the kids. Well, in the state they lived in -- that is supposedly an 'illegal' will, you cannot disinherit a spouse. So my dad said he would sue the live in boyfriend...until he was found in a ditch having had a heart attack while driving. it was an interesting two weeks after my mom passed, but before boyfriend passed, that was for sure.

Sounds like a story that needs to be in my book!

Wow. I'm so sorry for what I'm sure was a trying time. Another testimony on why you need to have a "legal" exit plan!

So what if they don't? That is, suppose the heirs don't give up meager assets to pay off credit cards? What can the banks actually do? One premise of banking -- and the rationalization for crazy-high interest rates -- is that a certain percentage of debts are uncollectable, and it's really hard to collect from the dead.

Unless we are talking big money, typically nothing is done. But I would not want to take that chance. Doing the wrong thing can end up costing you a lot of money. 

Just wanted to pass this along, since it’s open enrollment season for a lot of folks. Several of the large companies my spouse and I have worked at offer a legal services plan. We don’t get it every year, but it saved us THOUSANDS when selling our house and setting up a will. You don’t have to renew it every year, but if you don’t have one yet, enroll now if possible and make an appointment in January. Our “copay” to set up a will, medical proxies, trust, guardian info, was less than $100. I liked that I got face time with a human to talk through how best to arrange things for my (preschool aged) kids.

This is such a great idea. In fact, this is how my husband and I paid for our wills and that of our children. (Our benefit included wills for our dependents.) Our 24-year-old has a will and during the holiday break, I'm scheduling to have wills done for our other two kids, 21 and 19. Why? They don't have much BUT since they are technically adults there are a lot of things we can't do for them should they become incapacitated even though we are their parents. Signing up for the benefit again during open enrollment. 

Same for police, fire, and EMS...Really, is any job safe?

You are so right!

My mother died without a will, but fortunately there was no fighting among the siblings. My sister and I each had a will prepared after that. I think the cost was less than $400, and I paid a few hundred extra for a trust. I live in a suburb of Baltimore.

Thanks for sharing your experience with the cost of getting a will. 

My husband's brother died unexpectedly. His partner as well as my husband's sister insisted that there were no assets or funds available for a funeral/burial. My husband and I had to act fast and we spent an entire horrible day at the Department of Social Services arranging for an "impoverished" funeral/burial which included me having to formally swear in writing that there were no assets. The week after the funeral we found out that there were cash assets of over $10,000. We reported this to Social Services admitting our error and they collected payment. The brother's partner and my husband's sister have never spoken to us again - they wanted that $10,000 for themselves and were furious that my husband and I were honest with Social Services. They also took off with brother's ashes and won't tell us what they did with them, our intention had been to inter them in me and my husband's (already paid for) burial plot. People can be very strange and downright mean at times of death.

Wow!  So real.

I just have no words, even a "wow." 

When my parents were no longer able to live completely independently, they moved to an independent living apartment in an assisted living complex. When they were no longer able to manage there, they moved inside to assisted living. When they were in the apartment, meals (which were very good, we ate there from time to time) were an extra charge. Assisted living was more expensive, but we no longer had to pay for meals. This was paid for by using their remaining assets. When my dad went to the nursing home, this was from a hospital discharge, so was covered by Medicare. Before his Medicare coverage ran out he went to hospice (also covered by Medicare, where he died. We never paid anything toward his nursing home or hospice care. By the time my mom needed nursing home care, their assets were depleted, so she was eligible for Medicaid that covered what her Social Security benefit did not. We found a nice nursing home that had a Medicaid bed available when she was discharged from a hospital stay. We were fortunate.

Definitely fortunate! And what a lot to deal with. Bless your heart. 

My husband finally created his will using an online will making resource. It's basically a boiler plate form, and his only specifications are "I leave everything to my wife". My will is more specific, and I'm not leaving everything to my husband (we have two daughters). Any issues here? Should we pay the long dollar and see an attorney?

If you aren't going to do anything then yes at least use a DIY online will. BUT . . . estate planning is so state specific and those online forms can't possibly take into account you're individual situation. Me, I would hire an attorney. And did. 

Hello there, I'm turning 25 in January and would like to do something special, like a short international trip to Paris or Rome. I'm very good with my money, but I do have student debts, bills, etc. What is a good, realistic way to budget for something like this and stick to it? I'm so tired of reading advice geared to my age group that only says things like don't buy weekly coffees, etc., because when I look at my expenditures already that's not where most of my money is going. I really want to make this happen for myself but sometimes it seems kind of hopeless because I don't have a lot of wiggle room in my budget, but I've dreamt of this for a long time. Any advice?

I'm trying to take non-estate questions and this is a good one. But before I answer, if you are still online, can you answer some questions for me. I think this would be a great column and help a lot of other people considering spending on a luxury when they have debt. 


1. How much student loan debt do you have? Are you in a debt forgiveness plan? 

2. What are your major bills and are you able to cover them with money left over? 

3. Do you have an emergency fund? If so, how much is in the account? 

4. Are you living alone or with roommates?

5. How secure is your job?

6. Are you saving for retirement yet? And if so, what percentage of your salary are you saving? Is there a company match for retirement?

7. Where to you want to go for your birthday?

You can answer here in this forum or send your answers to 

While this comment is late I wanted to add this to the discussion of when is the “right” time to buy a new car since I just last Saturday bought a new car, paying cash for it thanks to you. Ok, my story: I own a 1990 honda civic hatchback w/ manual transmission. I bought it brand new so I’ve had it for nearly 30 years. I bought it December 1989. I have now just bought a 2019 nissan leaf plus. It’s a fully electric vehicle. I always took my civic to the dealer for service. While I may have paid more getting repairs from the dealer, I got the following perks; free state inspection every year, if the repairs were over a certain price my car was washed & vacuumed (the only time my car ever got cleaned) and for me, the biggest perk was that I lived close enough to the dealer that they would drive me home so I didn’t have to wait at the dealer for the repairs or I got a lift when it was time drop off or pick up the car. One time, the dealer actually admitted that a previous repair hadn’t been done correctly & they made the repair for free. As the car aged, the repairs got more & more expensive but the repairs were still cheaper than a new car. Why did I finally pull the trigger? The simple reason was that honda no longer makes parts for my car so my dealer couldn’t service it. I took it to a mechanic who told me that he had to use non-honda parts so he couldn’t guarantee how long his repairs would last so the last $1100 repair was the final repair. I took it to the dealer one last time for the final safety inspection so I could drive it legally while looking for a new car. The civic never broke down on the side of the road but it did refuse to start a couple of times which I got repaired. I twice towed it to the dealer for repairs. I am currently still keeping the car since personal property taxes are only $36 for the car but I may donate it at the end of the year when the tags expire.

Could you possibly have a yard sale with some of the things she's bought over the last few years? Obviously won't be enough to pay off the debt, but could ease some of that burden.

That is if she's willing to sell stuff. 

A good friend of mine's husband left her for another woman. He never married the other woman, and when he died seven years later, my friend got a call: he'd never changed his life insurance beneficiary, and my friend got $250K! Since he also failed to pay child support, this provided for college for the kids. And to Michelle: we should ALL keep up on beneficiaries. I divorced several years ago, and when my annual renewal for life insurance came due this summer, with a reminder to log into the portal to review beneficiaries? My ex was listed on there even though I had removed him two years prior! Turned out that the initial removal had glitched! Scary...I fixed it and now check it quarterly!

Wow. What a story. And glad you caught that glitch!

Having an Exit Plan provides clarity and comfort to family members and ensures your wishes are honored.

Thank you everyone for your questions and comments!  

Pleasure having you. Love your stories because they provide a great way to scare people into having an exit plan!

My story is short. I work with older adults and in my experience it's often better to: 1. Give things away to those you want to have them while you are alive. Things tend to "walk" once a person dies and those who are supposed to get things may not. 2. Realize that if people have keys to a home, things walk and your wishes, although they are in a will, may not be honored if too much time passes. 3. Tell people where your documents are. Don't think people are just going to "find" your power of attorney or will.

This is all great advice. Thank you.

" that is supposedly an 'illegal' will, you cannot disinherit a spouse. So my dad said he would sue the live in boyfriend...until he was found in a ditch having had a heart attack while driving" This is right out of a law school exam hypothetical. Many states have rules where a living spouse has to get at least a third (varies) of the estate or it can be invalidated. The probably result from this one (in a state that has these rules) is that a spouse who survives the deceased for two weeks technically inherited the estate and that means that HIS will and not hers controlled who gets the money. If no one enforced it, that is a different story (possibly considered a gift, possibly not). And rules vary about how long one spouse has to survive the other for it not to be considered "simultaneous" which doesn't ever really mean it has to be in the same few seconds.

Good stuff. Thanks. 

This chat has given me more to consider ... onward!

Your comment is a good place to end. But I see ALL your comments and questions and we need another two hours to get to them all. For now, here's my top two tips

1. Please, please please keep in mind you will die. This means you need an exit plan. Talk to your people. Figure out who is best to handle your affairs and it might not be your oldest adult child. Don't leave a hot mess when you die. That's an awful legacy to leave. 

2. Get some estimates but hire an attorney to help you with your estate planning. So much can go awry even with a will but things definitely can get low and dirty without one. 

Bonus tip for young adults -- Yu -- my chat producer -- this means you, too. You need a will. You're an adult and you have more than you think. Plus, you want your parents or whomever you name to take care of your estate to have an easier time dealing with your loss. If you work, you may have workplace insurance, a car, etc. So, yes, you need a will, too. 

See you next week. Also, Rhonda has agreed to answer more questions offline, so look for that column. 

Take care. 

Two years ago, I broke my hip and had emergency surgery. Since general anesthetics and I are not friends, there was a possibility that I might not wake up. Obviously, I did and am healing so slowly. However, had I not woken up, I'd already done the will, power of attorney, health directives, and all my lawyer said I needed.....but there has been so much I now realize hadn't been done. We (my children and I) are working to declutter, monetize the stuff none of us wants, decide where to live. I never wanted to leave the mess my parents did . I saw then that the shock of sudden death paralyzes the survivors and adds additional emotional value to the stuff I'd have thrown out (notes, anything with my handwriting on it...)

I was wrapping up but then this came in. Good cautionary story and advice. 

Okay, bye for real this time. 

In This Chat
Michelle Singletary
Michelle Singletary writes the nationally syndicated personal finance column, "The Color of Money," which appears in The Post on Wednesday and Sunday and is carried in more than 120 newspapers.

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Rhonda Green
Rhonda D. Green has been employed with the First Baptist Church of Glenarden since 1996. She currently serves as the Funeral Services Manager under the leadership of First Lady Trina Jenkins. In addition to her work at First Baptist, she is the CEO of My Exit Plan, LLC. Rhonda dedicates her time to helping families “get their house in order.” Her motto is “You Can’t Take It with You!”
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