Your Funeral – How Much Say Will You Have?

151019_EM_CostofFuneralPlanning your funeral can save your loved ones extra stress in a time of grief. But there are several things to consider: Do you want to be buried in a cemetery?  If so, which one and where?  Do you want to be entombed in a mausoleum?  Or do you want to be cremated?  If so, who should care for or place your remains and where do you want them?  In a home or Columbarium?  Or should your remains be spread about?  Almost anything is possible with some forethought.

You can choose the funeral home long before you need it and even pay for all or part of the services in advance. If you choose this route, make sure the services are guaranteed at the contracted price. Some contracts call for additional “final expense funding.” This means that should prices increase, your loved ones will be left paying the difference.

Also ask about these issues:

  • If you change your mind, can you get all or part of your money back?
  • Will your money earn interest? If so, how much? Who gets it?
  • What happens if the funeral home goes out of business?

Another option is to buy a life insurance policy that can be used for funeral expenses.  You need to think carefully about who you make the beneficiary of such a policy.  Even a loved one who has financial problems may have better places to spend a windfall than on your funeral.

Whatever you choose to do, make copies of all documents, giving files to appropriate family members and your executor.  Some clients keep these documents in their safe deposit box, but I usually discourage that for the same reason I discourage placing funeral directions in your Will.  The reason – many times a person’s funeral is long past before the Will is located or brought out for review.  By that time it is too late to comply with many of those directions.

If you would like to learn more about various possibilities for appointing someone to handle your arrangements and your remains and documenting your wishes, contact a qualified estate planning attorney.

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Don’t Let Estate Planning Scare You This Halloween

Estate planning is sometimes thought to be a scary process.  Right up there jackolanternwith purchasing life insurance or having a root canal.  But almost all of my clients breathe a sigh of relief when they have completed the process saying they have dreaded this for years and are thankful that it was really not that hard and was now done.  Of course, it is not really done because a good estate plan should be reviewed periodically to see if the law has changed, you have changed your mind or perhaps some of the people you designated to serve in certain positions are no longer alive or appropriate to serve.   Having a plan can also give you the peace of mind that your assets are protected, your medical wishes are documented, and that provisions have been made for your friends and family.

While a complete package of estate planning documents includes numerous related documents, four of them are the core documents.

Will. A will is a legal document in which a person provides instructions for the distribution of his or her assets upon their death.  This document can also be used to designate a guardian for any minor children, although I also recommend a separate document designating the same guardians but to take effect if you become incapacitated. The executor of the will is the person who, upon your death, gathers your assets, pays your debts and distributes your estate in accordance with the directions in your will.  Your will may also designate a trustee if any trusts are to be created under your will; for example, for gifts to minors or for gifts to individuals receiving government benefits.

Durable Power of Attorney.  A durable power of attorney is a document in which you designate an agent to perform specific actions when you are not able to perform them yourself because of incapacity.  You specify which powers your agent will have under your durable power of attorney.  Those powers typically include handling real estate transactions, financial matters and making legal decisions.  Without a power of attorney, if you become incapacitated it may be necessary for your loved ones to go to court to have a guardian appointed to make those decisions for you.

Medical Power of Attorney.  A medical power of attorney is a document in which you designate an agent to make medical decisions for you when you are not able to make them yourself.  If you are able to make your own decisions, this document will not be used.  You can specify that your agent is to enforce your wishes that are expressed in your Directive to Physicians and Family (described below).

Directive to Physicians and Family.  A directive to physicians and family is a document indicating your preferences regarding sustaining your life in various circumstances.  It is sometimes referred to as a living will.  It also can list other health care preferences, for example, specific treatments, tests or care options you do or do not want performed.  This document is only referred to if you are unable to express your preferences at the time consent is required.  It lets your physicians, hospitals and family members know what your preferences are.

If you are anxious about what will happen to your estate or what will happen if you become incapacitated, don’t be scared – contact your estate planning attorney.  He or she can explain these documents and any others it would be appropriate for you to include in your planning.  The process is painless and will be one less thing you need to be scared about next Halloween.

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Estate Planning Myths

There are many mistaken beliefs by the mythspopulace when it comes to wills, trusts and probate.  I hear some of them when I meet with clients.  But more often I hear these particular myths when speaking with people who don’t know what I do for a living.  So here are a few of the gems I hear.

I have a Will. That’s all I need.

Usually this statement is made by someone who got their will online, which creates its own problems.  But if we assume that it is a valid will in Texas, it should cover the basics when the person dies.  But many people become incapacitated and unable to care for themselves for a few weeks to many years before they die.  A complete estate planning package should include financial and medical powers of attorney and a living will that gives your loved ones authority to act and direction in the event of catastrophe.

We made our wills when we got married.   It’s still effective, right?

Well, how long ago did you get married?  Have you had children?  Are your executor and trustee still the people you wish to serve in that capacity?  Have estate laws changed since then?  These are just a few of the things that can change over time.  Everyone with a will should at least review it on their own to be sure it still makes sense to them.  But meeting with your estate planning attorney about any law changes or changes in your family situation is also a great idea.

I’m too young to start thinking about a Will.

Life is unpredictable and uncertain. Anyone of us could be hit by a car or suffer a debilitating or fatal health issue at any time.  Take some time to create a Will and other important estate planning documents in order to ease the burden on your family.

I don’t need a lawyer to create a Will.

While this is technically true, it is dangerous.  There are so many pitfalls in prepareing a will without consulting an attorney.  And those pitfalls are likely to reveal themselves only after you have died.  At that point it may be impossible or very difficult and expensive to remedy the error or omission.  That is why I don’t recommend trying to prepare your estate planning documents on your own. There are many variables and unique situations that play into an individual’s estate plan, and a generic document may not cover those.

My family knows my wishes and how to distribute my things.

Based on my years of experience in this field I highly doubt this is true in the majority of cases.  I find it more likely that each of your family members has a different view on what to do with your belongings. Avoid family feuds by designating where your money and sentimental things will go when you pass away.

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Long Term Care Planning

ponderingHave you been pondering how to cover the cost of long term care?  Long term care insurance is one way many people choose to protect themselves against the cost of long term care at home or in nursing facilities.  Whether long term care insurance is right for you is often a factor of your resources, your health (although good health today can change in an instant), your family situation and your age at the time you are considering such a purchase.

Recently an article was shown to me addressing the question of whether a group long term care insurance policy is always the best alternative over an individual long term care insurance policy.  This article is found at the website of the Association for Long Term Care Planning.  Other resources can also be found there.  You should be alert that this organization supports those who market long term care insurance, so their slant on things may be biased.  But view the information and weigh that bias into your own evaluation.

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