If someone has died, what do we do next? There is a comedy play called Daddy Died, Who Has the Will?, which is a chaotic comedy of everyone scrambling around, trying to find the Will and find out what daddy owned. You want to avoid that.
You can have a well done estate plan prepared by a qualified estate planning attorney. The attorney can be working (if you want them to) with your adult children (not necessarily knowing what your assets are) but they could know what the estate plan is. That way they know what their roles are when they come into play either as the healthcare agent or the successor trustee. Your estate planning attorney should work with your other trusted advisers such as your accountant or your financial adviser and your insurance professional.
You want to have the estate plan set up in advance. You want to make sure that the estate plan is current with the law, current with your
relationships and current with what your desires are. You want to make sure that all of your assets are titled into the name of your trust so that they can skip probate court. You want to make sure that the successor trustees have met with the estate planning lawyer so that they understand their role.
We have what we call ‘Family Meetings’, and we will try to meet with the adult children (or others) who help come in and take over the estate plan if someone has declined. That way, they know their roles, the adult helper knows their role when they come in to help mom and dad, and it is less chaotic. If you try to teach someone while the person is declining in health, has become mentally incapacitated or has passed on, the emotions are running so high, it is hard for the survivor spouse or the helper to effectively operate within their roles.
When we do the estate plan and put it together in our estate planning portfolio, not only do we put together the estate plan and all the supporting pieces such as all the healthcare powers and everything else, but we also try and put in what assets the client owns. That way, when the adult child comes into play, not only do they know what the parent’s desire is, they know where the assets are. ‘What investment accounts? What bank? Where is the deed to the house? Where is the title to the automobile? Is there land in another state?’ That is much easier than trying to look through the sock drawers or through the old bank statements and trying to figure out what mom and dad owned
after they are incapacitated or deceased.
The same thing is true with the healthcare powers. These are really going to come into play as seniors get older. If you get sick or have a stroke or have a heart attack or whatever it is, your healthcare agent needs to be in a position to help you right away.
Often, after someone passes on, his or her surviving spouse has a very difficult time trying to come in and take action. It is almost like somebody has whacked them in the head with a baseball bat, because they are distraught, their partner of however many years or decades has gone, and they are so overwhelmed that it is hard to move forward and take action that needs to be taken. Many times, the adult children will need to step up to help. It is better if everyone is prepared ahead of time while everyone is calm and coherent.
In our formal update program, The Life Plan System™, we present our Nuts and Bolts™ workshops. These are big versions of family
meetings where we talk about how the estate plans work and the helpers’ role s. We will do them at Thanksgiving and at Christmas because that is when the adult children come home. We do them in a workshop style.
- ‘What do we do if you are the healthcare agent when you come into play?
- What happens if you are the successor trustee?
- What do you do if dad passes?
- What do you do if mom passes?
- What do you do when somebody gets sick?
- What if there’s mental disability?’
We never talk about the client’s assets or how a specific plan works, but we give an overall view of what the roles would be in the structure of how the estate plans work. This is a much better way for the adult children to try and understand, and it also gives us a good chance to talk about the elephant in the room which is ‘mom and dad are going to decline to the point where they are not here.’ Legal action has to be taken to administer the estate plan, so it is better if your helpers are ready to start moving forward as needed.
People will talk about powers of attorney, but they can be difficult to use. Often, financial institutions won’t follow them or use them if they are more than five or 10 years old. Also, they can be too broad. There is no reporting requirement and there are no instructions on how to do anything so they really can be used to take advantage of people. Our goal is keeping you in control as long as we can both medically and financially, and by having the right people in place that you trust to take care of you if you decline mentally and when you pass on. They have to be the right people in control. We want to stay out of the courthouse.
We try and push for the clients to have funeral instructions in place.
Do they want to be cremated?
Is there a pre-need funeral arrangement already made? A lot of fights in the families are over this.
Did somebody want to be buried? Or cremated? Or caskets used? Or scattering of the ashes? Also, there are a lot of fights over where the assets go after somebody passes on. Do they go to the surviving spouse alone? Do they go to other loved ones?
Blended families are always a hotspot and potential for conflict because you will have a spouse that mom or dad may have enjoyed and gotten along with well. Then you have the adult children who have known and loved mom and dad much longer than the person that they married later. So anytime you have the blended family, there is a lot of potential conflict and it is always a balancing act with the estate planning lawyer and the clients. The estate planning lawyer should have a number of conversations with the clients about potential conflicts and avoiding them because you don’t want your children to have conflict with your surviving spouse. You want everybody to try and get along,
in the same way you want the adult kids to not have conflict with each other after you are gone.
NOTE: This is an excerpt from the book, The Legacy You Leave, by Steven Andrew Jackson, Esq. You can buy the book on Amazon or Kindle. Click here for details.
At the Law Firm of Steven Andrew Jackson, Attorney and Counsellor at Law, we have helped hundreds of families protect themselves and their loved ones, avoid Estate Taxes and Probate Costs, and keep their Estate Plans current with the law through The Customized Protective Estate Planning Solution™.