Laura Bittner,
Family and consumer science agent

Caring for loved ones is often the center-most focus of our attention while living. However, if we truly care about our loved ones, it is critical we plan for their care and well-being long after we have moved on from this life.

This necessity has been made even more apparent to me after the passing of a friend in January and the passing of another friend’s mother this past week.

Neither person left behind a will, leaving family members with the hassle-laden task of settling their affairs. Both of these wonderful women were the caretakers of their families, a responsibility which included managing all of the family’s financial matters.

In the midst of the shock of their unexpected passing, family members were left scrambling to uncover bank account information, insurance policies, passwords to accounts, bill due dates, actual debt and assets.

Lack of communication about family finances is not a purposeful act to make a devastating situation even worse. It is, however, the result of believing there is plenty of time to discuss such matters. Furthermore, nobody wants to discuss the unpleasant topic of dying, but we must.

If this conversation is too hard for you to manage right now, at least make sure you have a will. A will ensures that your property is transferred according to your wishes after your death.

A 2017 survey from the AARP reports six out of 10 adults are without a will. Why is this important? Dying without a will, referred to as “intestate,” means the state will determine the distribution of the deceased’s assets, including who will take care of children. Additionally, survivors may have to endure a lengthy legal process and excess taxes only to claim what you would have happily shared with them if you had taken the time to write a will.

Writing a basic will does not require you hire an attorney; however, you must be aware of the state’s requirements. General requirements for a valid will usually require the document must be written (typed or printed) by a person age 18 or older, or a minor lawfully married, and of sound mind, and signed by the person making the will, witnessed and notarized.

As you prepare to write your will, make a list of the people to whom you want to leave your property (your beneficiaries). Identify your personal representative or executor, decide on who can and will be the guardian for any minor children. Include names, addresses and relationships of all people mentioned.

Determine your real property (real estate) and personal property (cars, bank accounts, furniture, jewelry, tools, machinery, etc.) and outline who will be the recipients.

If you already have a will, be sure you review it periodically, especially if there are changes in family or financial situations, such as marriage/divorce, birth of children, moving to another state, acquisition of additional property or increase in the value of property.

Along with having a will in place, be sure to keep a list of bank account numbers, account passwords, debts and assets, insurance policies, marriage and birth certificates and other important financial documents securely stored in a personal safe, a locked filing cabinet or a jointly-managed safe deposit box.

Most importantly, be sure someone you trust such as your spouse, your adult children or your attorney know how to access this information.

While none of us likes to think about dying, the fact of the matter is that proper planning can ensure our family’s well-being and create peace of mind now and in the future.

Program announcements

To register for an upcoming program, call the Valencia County Cooperative Extension Service at 565-3002. For more information, visit

Home & Garden Expo: 8-2:30 p.m., Saturday, March 16, $5 registration fee. Peralta Methodist Church Community Education Building, 25 Wesley Road, Peralta. RSVP required by March 14.

StrongWomen Exercise Program: (12-week series), 10:30-11:30 a.m., Monday, March 18, registration fee. Eagle Park Community Center, Belen. Doctor’s release required.

Gardening Survival Series, “Seed Starting & Soil Preparation: 10-11:30 a.m., Saturday, March 23, free, Bosque Farms Public Library, 1466 W. Bosque Loop.

Meadow Lake Kids Club: 4-5:30 p.m., Tuesday, March 26, free, Meadow Lake Community Center, 100 Cuerro Lane, Meadow Lake. Youth ages 4-17.

Healthy Cuisine, 30 Minute Meals: 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., Tuesday April 2, 9, $10. Peralta Methodist Church Community Education Building, 25 Wesley Road, Peralta. RSVP required by March 25.

Man with a Pan! Cooking Class: 6-8 p.m., Wednesday, April 10, $10. Peralta Methodist Church Community Education Building, 25 Wesley Road, Peralta. RSVP required by April 4.

Kitchen Creations: Diabetes Cooking School: 9 a.m. to noon, Wednesdays, April 10, 17, 24 and May 1, free. Peralta Methodist Church Community Education Building, 25 Wesley Road, Peralta. RSVP required by April 5.

Middle Rio Grande Artificial Insemination Training: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., April 10, 11 & 12, cost $285. Southwest Event Center, 24 Dalies Road, Los Lunas. Space limited to 25 participants. RSVP required. Contact Newt 565-3002.

If you are an individual with a disability who is in need of auxiliary aid or service to participate in a program, please contact the Valencia County Cooperative Extension Service office at 565-3002 two weeks in advance of event.

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Laura Bittner, guest columnist

Laura Bittner is the former Valencia County family and consumer science agent for the New Mexico State University Cooperative Extension Service.