Recently, I met a man whose father died suddenly back in IL where he grew up. He was returning home to CA from the memorial. The man shared his father became suddenly sick. Within days of being admitted to the hospital, they called and told him to get there quick. He said that when he arrived, his father took four breaths and passed. I could see the shock and numbness in this man’s being from the experience of his father’s passing. The man said his parents were by no means hoarders but that he felt overwhelmed by his sadness and at the possibility of having to go through the house and make the final settlement of his father’s affairs.
In an article by Lawrence R Samuel Ph.D. in Psychology Today entitled “Death, American Style”, (*see link below) Dr. Samuel states: “Over the past century, death and sex battled it out to be the number one unmentionable in America; these two topics were most reflective of our shame and embarrassment when it comes to all corporeal matters. But death has surged way ahead of sex on a “forbidden quotient,” I think most would agree; the former is now firmly ensconced as this country’s leading source of uneasiness, discomfort, and apprehension.”
I’m confused by our cultures shyness of the subject of death. We celebrate and plan for birth. When planning to have a baby, we attain the best doctor we can, we read books on pregnancy, organize for the baby’s arrival and we prepare the nursery. Wouldn’t it make sense to plan in a similar way for death?
Both will happen organically, but certainly with some planning and education both can go much smoother for you and your family than with no plan or care at all.
Here are some basics to consider.
1. Attain a will or trust
2. Establish a power of attorney or springing power of attorney (see my previous article on this subject)
3. Create a Living Will, Health Directive or “Five Wishes”
4. Consider pre-planning your Funeral, Memorial or Celebration of Life
5. Convey your plan to your family or designated trustee
Even a person of modest means needs a trust or a will. A trust or a will conveys your wishes and legally indicates how your property will be distributed at your time of death. Depending upon the laws in your state, a trust can save your family 3-10% in probate court and attorney costs, not to mention the time it takes to go through the process that can be months and even years.
Will: A written declaration that names someone to manage your estate and how to distribute your property at death. You must sign, date and have your will witnessed.
Holographic Will: A will made out entirely in your own hand.
Trust: It is a legal vehicle where a property is held by one party for the benefit of another. Property of any sort may be held in a trust. Trusts may be provide benefits in estate planning, asset protection and taxes. It’s important to research the probate & estate planning laws in your state and find out if a trust or will is appropriate for your situation.
Irrevocable Trust: After you place property into an irrevocable trust, you can’t retrieve the property. For all intents and purposes, that property now belongs to the trust.
Revocable Trust: Your property is placed into the trust. You can undo the transfer by removing the property and terminating the trust.
Power of Attorney: Gives an appointed person power to act on your behalf in private, business and legal affairs. You can depict how much power your appointee has and in which circumstances they have the right to act on your behalf. (See article on powers of attorney)
Health Care Directive, Living Will or The Five Wishes:
An incredible amount of money is spent on end of life care in the US. Not enough of those resources are designated into an end of life plan.
A Health Care Directive or Living Will is a legal document in which a person specifies what actions should be taken for their health if they are no longer able to make decisions for themselves because of illness or incapacity.
An alternative to A Health Care Directive or Living Will is The Five Wishes.
Five Wishes lets your family and doctors know:
- Who you want to make health care decisions for you when you can’t make them.
- The kind of medical treatment you want or don’t want.
- How comfortable you want to be.
- How you want people to treat you.
- What you want your loved ones to know.
“Five Wishes is changing the way America talks about and plans for care at the end of life. More than 23 million copies of Five Wishes are in circulation across the nation, distributed by more than 40,000 organizations. Five Wishes meets the legal requirements in 42 states and is useful in all 50. Fill it out on line and print it for $5.”
Most people want to keep assets in the family – and avoid big chunks of money going to probate lawyers and courts. Additionally, they want to keep peace in the family. Creating an estate plan and communicating that plan to whomever has agreed to handle your affairs.