Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Estate Plan? Me?

*  My assets are really simple, and there are not that many of them.
    *  I’m married; doesn’t everything go to my spouse, then my kids?
*  I have plenty of time to get this together.
*  My family gets along really well; they won’t have any problem dividing things up.
*  After I’m gone, why do I care?
These are among the many reasons I hear when I ask if someone has taken care of putting together an estate plan.  For many, “estate plan” sounds complicated and entirely too sophisticated for what they view as their simple circumstances. 
But “estate plan” is an all-inclusive term to describe the documents needed to adequately protect you and your family and loved ones in situations of illness, incapacity and after death.  An estate plan will address:
·        Distribution of assets
·        Holding assets in “trust” if needed for minor children or others not financially capable.
·        Directions for health care if you are incapacitated, temporarily or permanently.
·        Instructions regarding end of life decisions
·        Choosing someone to make business and financial decisions if you cannot.
·        Guardians for minor children.
·        Final instructions re memorial services, gifts to charities, and disposition of your body.

An example of large scale unexpected death is the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.  Not only was this a sad and tragic series of events because of the loss of life and the change it wrought in our sense of security within our borders, it demonstrated how unprepared most families are. 
The buildings and airplanes involved in the attacks held primarily people of working age, most in the prime of life.  There were some children, some seniors, but most were people going about their daily work routine, as were the hundreds of emergency personnel who responded and also lost their lives.   
Accountants, financial consultants, restaurant workers, security personnel, building engineers, police, firefighters, military men and women and yes, lawyers, did not have Wills or Trusts designating what would happen to their assets.  Lawyers were among the most prevalent of those without plans.  The shoemakers’ children go without shoes. 
      Not only did approximately 70% not have written plans, most did not have adequate financial coverage for families through life insurance or other means.  70% is the approximate national average of those dying without an estate plan.
This is an extreme example, but just last month I heard from a family whose loved one is critically ill and there are no instructions about end of life care.   I recently have been visited by the adult children of a parent who told the kids everything was taken care of but they cannot find any of the paperwork. 
In my own extended family, there were emotional disputes about what type of service a beloved sister wished to have.  When a young couple was killed in a car accident on a weekend get-away for their anniversary, their three young children were the subject of turmoil among family factions, each of whom thought he or she should be appointed guardian.
An estate plan is the kindest gift you can leave your family and loved ones.  Don’t make them guess what you want.  Have it written down and let them know where the papers are. 
            I can help you reduce your wishes to writing and can make it affordable to do so.  Contact Kathleen Wright at kathleen@kswrightlaw.com