By James T. Stimler, Esq.
Unless it is a call from one of my own Estate & Disability clients, I cannot think of a call from a grief-stricken surviving spouse, a bereft child or an “only living, distant relative” that started out like this: “So-and-so died. I know exactly what to do."
No, that just doesn’t happen.
Instead, the conversation usually goes like this: “Did So-and-so have a Will, a Trust and/or a fully developed Estate Plan?” If yes, a properly developed Estate & Disability Plan is the Road Map that care-givers or survivors need to carry out the plans and wishes of the disabled or deceased person. If there is no Estate & Disability Plan [E & D Plan], care-givers and survivors can be lost [as well as grief stricken or confused] about what next to do when a person they love becomes disabled or dies.
Without a legal Road Map or E & D Plan, the caregiver or survivor will need to go to Probate Court to open an estate to pay hospital, funeral and other bills, hire a lawyer to represent the estate at an hourly rate for the work he or she must perform [possibly including the appointment of an expensive guardian], and have all of the loved one’s personal, healthcare, financial and other previously private information available to the public [via the internet and otherwise]. In other words, if you don’t have an Estate & Disability Plan [a Road Map] --you might as well drop your family and/or loved ones at the base of a mountain range and expect them to find all of the paths to your scattered assets--spending some significant amount of money in the process and perhaps missing some assets.
Ask yourself: Do your loved ones even know which banks or financial institutions you use? Do they know your pass-words to on-line pension, banking, brokerage firm or medical plans? Do they know where the title to the car is, the deed to the house, the lease to the apartment, the auto-deduct bill pay set-ups that you have scheduled--which will start depleting accounts faster than they can say: “I never knew my loved one shopped there, used that utility, or agreed to pay monthly installments to that charity.” Do they know how you feel about the use of artificial means of life support? Or, do they know how you would like your life to be remembered? Do they know which cherished objects [example: grandma’s diamond ring] you would want them to pass on to a specific person?
If you love your spouse, partner, children, family members, friends, charities, alma mater—or your dog sitter--show your love by drawing up a Road Map—an effective Estate & Disability Plan—that your care-givers or survivors can follow to carry-out your intentions and wishes in the event that you are disabled or deceased. Don’t leave such an important set of directions to a computer form you printed off the internet or to a hand-written note. Instead, make an appointment with a qualified lawyer [and if your state has a Certified Specialist program, like Ohio does] a Certified Specialist Wills, Trust and Estate Planning lawyer. Invest in the creation of Your Unique Road Map that specifies who should be your guardian or the guardian of your children, and that coordinates real estate, tax, insurance, investment or retirement fund [and other concerns unique to your life] in the event of your unexpected disability or untimely death. An Estate & Disability Plan won’t erase or shorten the grief felt by your care-givers or survivors, but it will lighten their load significantly as they work to make your intentions and last wishes come true.