I met recently with a man who asked me if it was too late. I could not give him the assurance he wanted. His mother was a stroke survivor; and recently had a serious fall. These are two of the most common reasons seniors need long term care, and both can occur in an instant. Seniors make up almost two thirds of those hospitalized for a stroke. Similarly, falls are the leading cause of both fatal and nonfatal injuries for seniors.
In the past months, we have read and heard a great detail about a rock musician who passed away unexpectedly. Although I have no doubt he was extremely talented, I did not consider myself a fan of his music and was not aware that he was still performing. I was surprised, therefore, by the amount of publicity generated by his passing.
However, I became keenly interested after reading an article about what would likely happen next. It appears that this musician’s estate had been valued at $300 million, a value that will apparently significantly increase due to his passing.
It also appears he did not have a Will or trust.
Recently I read an article published in the Wall Street Journal® titled “The Difficult, Delicate Untangling of Our Parents’ Lives.” The author and his wife are in their 50s and dealing with the challenges of parents too incapacitated to handle their own affairs.
Significantly, the frustration was not that their parents needed help. Most children would consider such help to be an opportunity to repay the sacrifices made by their parents. (However, parents who plan to rely on their children should not underestimate how significant this burden may be. Perhaps I will discuss this more in a future column.)
Recently I met with a heartbroken couple facing an aggressive, terminal diagnosis for one of them. There is likely little time left. From that meeting I headed to a health care facility to review estate documents with a man hopefully recovering from a very serious health condition. He was lucid but so weak he could barely sign the documents I prepared.
Most people are familiar with a Will; but does it have any connection to a Living Will? Other than the fact that both are an important part of any estate plan, these are two different documents with very different purposes. A Will applies upon your passing. A Living Will applies only while you are still alive.
Too often, I meet with a recently widowed spouse who knows little or nothing about their estate plan. Usually it is a surviving wife, and she is very frightened. Anyone can understand how difficult it must be to deal with the challenges and emotions of losing a spouse. There may be no lonelier time in that person’s life. It must be especially painful at that time to carry the additional burden of not knowing what will happen next. • “What is going to happen to what we spent a lifetime building?” • “How long/expensive will that process be?” • “How do I even begin?”
Last column I explained why the process of transferring assets should never be more important than ensuring those assets end up with the people you want to receive them. So long as this priority is protected, there can be significant advantages to plan for the right way to transfer those assets.
For those who consider probate (or avoiding probate) to be a significant issue, it is important to remember that probate is only a process to transfer assets. Regardless of whether probate is necessary or appropriate, the process should never become more important than the result. Specifically, the process of transferring assets should never jeopardize the answer to the following question: “Will my assets end up with the people I want to receive them?”
In my last column, I discussed “probate,” and answered some of the questions I am frequently asked. The most common question is “Why should my (or my parent’s, etc.) estate go through probate?” This is a fair question, especially since no law requires probate.
“Probate” is a term most have heard, but don’t know what it means. Some know it has something to do with a Will, but don’t know how. More than a few have been told it is something to avoid, but aren’t sure why.
What is probate? Probate is a process in which a judge ensures that the debts of a deceased person (the decedent) are paid before his/her assets are distributed; and that the remaining assets are appropriately distributed.