By Alina Gonzalez-Dockery
Do you believe to make a will is depressing or a sure ticket to planning one’s death? What if drafting your will or trust is the most certain way of living in the moment?
This subject was part of the theme of season 3 finale of 9-1-1 Lone Star. In this episode, TK, a young firefighter and son of Captain Strand (played by Rob Lowe), was upset that his partner was redrafting his will. He felt that if you have a will, death was right around the corner. He railed against having his will made, despite being in a high-risk profession. It wasn’t until the show’s final moment that Captain Strand, who of course escaped certain death and was in the hospital, responded to TK, “No one is guaranteed anything. That is why you make a will. It is not to prepare for the end because that comes too no matter what we do. It is for the moment that it is taken care of, so we can live in it.” First, I admit I am a Gen-X and a fan of Rob Lowe. Second, I found myself clapping at this perfect and simple statement of why we should make our wills.
Life is unpredictable, life is exciting, and life is not guaranteed. But the one thing that is a guarantee, by preparing your estate plan, you can ensure how your loved ones will be taken care of. It is a guarantee that you put into place who and how you want to be taken care of if you are unable to care for yourself. And, through effective estate planning, you can still have control from the grave.
A well-rounded estate plan requires a number of steps to ensure that the estate plan will work effectively when needed. First, if you have a trust, have you funded it? Funding your trust means you have coordinated the ownership and beneficiary designations of your accounts and property to work with the trust. For real estate, a deed must have been recorded with the proper government recorder’s office. Most bank and brokerage accounts should be titled in the name of the trust if you want your trustee to control those accounts should something happen to you.
Second, have you checked the beneficiary designations on your retirement accounts and insurance policies to make sure they name the correct people or your trust? Life insurance policies should usually name the trust as the beneficiary. Retirement plans may name a trust as a beneficiary, but be careful! Naming a trust as the beneficiary of an individual retirement account or 401(k) has significant tax consequences and may not be advisable in many situations. Speak with your tax advisor before changing the beneficiary designations on your retirement accounts.
Third, have you shared copies of your medical power of attorney and healthcare directive with your doctor and local hospital? Doing so can alleviate family members’ worries about digging through your documents should you have a healthcare issue in the future.
Fourth, in many states, a financial power of attorney document that names an agent to act on your behalf must be accompanied by a signed acceptance document from the agent before it can be used. Has this step been taken? If not, your estate plan may not be complete.
Fifth, writing things down does not guarantee that misunderstandings will not arise among your loved ones or beneficiaries. In addition to the important work of documenting your wishes, you should talk with your loved ones to help them understand the kind of plan you have put in place as well as the roles you want them to fulfill. Finally, having open, honest communication with those individuals involved in your estate plan will minimize the chances of miscommunication and hurt feelings.
Can estate planning be grim? That depends on your perspective. I have seen how a well-structured estate plan provides guidance and relief to families through health care, and living will decisions, end of life arrangements, and distribution of assets.
Before that final curtain drops, take a moment to create your estate plan so that you may live in the present and enjoy what this life has to offer. www.lifelawplanning.com (239) 789-2533