An article I read recently, published by NextAvenue, made it ever so obvious – – Americans are procrastinators at preparing for death. We bury our heads in the sand, hoping that if we can avoid thinking about it, maybe it won’t happen to us!
No one blames those who haven’t dealt with their estate plans, not really. Who among us enjoys thinking about their own demise? But, when we fail to think about it to such an extent that we fail to make any sort of plan for our families and loved ones, we leave the very people we care most about vulnerable at worst and inconvenienced at the very least.
Here are some numbers from the article (link below) referring specifically to Wills, which as many of you may already know, is not the only thing to consider in an Estate Plan, but certainly tends to be a foundational piece of many plans:
51% of Americans (1 of every 2 people!) fail to execute a Will (ages 55 – 64), and the numbers only get worse the younger the person. The article also lists the typical excuses…..(“haven’t gotten around to it,” “didn’t think it was urgent,” “didn’t think I needed one,” or “don’t like to think about it,” are just some of the most common excuses).
The article talks about “low cost legal documents” and some of the organizations that provide those services. I have a number of blog posts on why an Elder Law and/or Estate Planning Attorney, who has experience dealing with these documents (and many others) is perhaps a wiser choice; you can decide for yourselves. But, what is invaluable to those seeking to create these documents is, for starters, making sure your documents fit your needs and address your individual issues and concerns specifically and completely. But, if you’re interested in knowing more about that, you can look under legallymade.com’s archives. Additionally, there are a number of archived entries that deal with what happens if you die without a Will. Both are good foundational pieces, if you’re just starting to address this subject.
In the meantime, let me quickly outline some basic issues of immediate concern to individuals in certain categories.
– young people, over 18 years of age
Even if you haven’t accumulated lots of “stuff” or money yet, you’re an adult now and have the authority to make your own decisions. Although you’re young and likely very healthy, you are not invincible, despite some of your attitudes and behaviors. Maybe it really doesn’t concern you at this point because you figure it will all go to your surviving family members. But, if you have certain wishes and/or concerns that stray from Minnesota’s assumptions for people who die without a will (“intestate”), and you didn’t properly write them down, those wishes or concerns may not be addressed. In your case, even more important is a Health Care Directive – – people in your age category (like Ms. Cruzan, and Ms. Schiavo, for example) are the ones whose tragic life events have made big news because they did not not have their wishes in writing. They both had a traumatic injury as young adults, and they never regained consciousness to decide for themselves, nor had they executed a health care directive. Up to you!
– young families with minor children
This category is more about children. You have some very important decisions to be made about how your children will be allowed to use whatever funds are left to support them, and, more importantly, who will be their guardians if something happens to you both while the children are still minors. If you don’t decide, the court will! It’s not like the court will make a bad decision – the court has an obligation to pick people “in the child’s/children’s best interests.” But, they can’t read your mind if you have strong opinions and you don’t right it down.
– single professionals of any age
You may have accumulated some significant wealth/assets. Again, as with very young adults, the state has a way of deciding for you how your wealth should be distributed (in accordance with Minnesota law). Therefore, if you have wishes that are contrary to Minnesota statutes on the subject, you must put them in writing for them to be addressed.
– married couples with extended families
Second/third marriages can be sticky for the surviving family members if you haven’t thought about and executed an Estate Plan. Marriage, as a legal relationship, and blood relationships create a certain set of priorities and presumptions by law. If your family member or loved one is situated outside of these presumptions, and you fail to document your wishes, they may be denied what they assumed would belong to them upon your death. I cannot stress this enough. This is an area ripe with potential disappointment, misunderstanding, and conflict. Do your families the biggest favor you could give them and put it in writing, preferably with the assistance of an attorney who can assist you in deciding what your goals are, and avoid ugly fights among family members.
– unmarried couples
As mentioned above, marriage is a legal relationship that, under most circumstances, protects you and your spouse financially. Without that legal acknowledgement, the law considers you two individuals – unrelated, and without any assumptions of rights or priorities (financial, medical, or otherwise). Therefore, if you want your partner to have certain things/assets of yours, or certain powers of agency on your behalf, you simply must put those wishes in writing. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve lived together, or owned things together, your family members have more legal priority than your partner does (certainly without any legal documentation whatsoever). On the contrary, if you wish for your family to inherit instead of your partner, make it clear and straightforward for both your family and your partner by putting that in writing as well.
– retired singles
I have found that retired singles still have families they care about deeply. More often, they also have loved ones, friends, or charities they also care about, and to whom they wish to disperse some of their assets, or offer authority to assist them with decision-making. Again, as mentioned above, and especially if few of your wishes mirror Minnesota’s probate law, it’s very important that you think carefully about your wishes and document them in writing.
Perhaps you fit into one of these categories. If you do, take your head out of the sand and ask an attorney to assist you in thinking through these choices, these issues, and these documents. You and your loved ones will feel more secure in living if they understand that you’ve made a plan for your Estate. And, remember that a Will is just one tool in the “tool-box.” You may need a Will-substitute and/or other important Estate Planning tools. Ask an experienced attorney about what you need and let them assist you in making a plan that’s right for you.This blog is written by Bridget-Michaele Reischl, Attorney DECORO LAW OFFICE, PLLC www.decorolaw.com