Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Yes, Everyone Needs A Will - Even If You're Only 25!

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The death of soul singer Aretha Franklin last month again shed light on the issue of dying without having a will. In Ms. Franklin's case - though she lived to age of 76 (before becoming terminally ill with pancreatic cancer) she never bothered to prepare a will. Because of this oversight or lack of preparation, her four sons and other family members are now left with the potentially draconian task of trying to find out how many millions she was worth (or has salted away) and divvying it up. A process that could take years.

Was this fair to her heirs? Of course not! It was bloody selfish and myopic.  Especially given one of the singer's attorney's - according to an AP report - urged her repeatedly over the years to draft one. But she simply refused, never openly telling her lawyer (Don Wilson), "No, I don't want to do one." - but apparently just never getting around to it. The  classic procrastination syndrome, with perhaps a tinge of superstition.

In the same AP piece, we learn that Laura Zwicker, an attorney who specializes in estate planning, says she sees it too often in her work. As she aptly put it:

"People don't like to face their own mortality."

Yeppers, childish but true.   Especially of Americans who have mutated into global experts on trying to look 30 even if you're 75.   Also, experts at inventing and using euphemisms for death and dying, like "passing".

Another part of the problem for ordinary mortals is too many remain convinced they don't have enough assets to warrant preparing a will.  So, while they may be financially savvy on many fronts-  say like their IRA or 401(k) investments-   they revert to imbeciles when it comes to protecting their assets with a will.  They'd rather have them subject to severe scrutiny via probate, keeping family members on tenterhooks.

For the sake of example here, Janice and I completed our initial wills soon after we were married in 1975.  They have since been updated twice, obviously because  beneficiaries etc. change, as do one's assets. How old was I when I finished that will in Barbados? Well, all of 29!

 Let's grasp here that in a sense, everyone has an estate plan whether they realize it or not.  A given state's law makes this point a certainty and the only difference is whether you allow the state to dictate the dispersal of your assets, you collections etc. or YOU make the decision to whom the assorted items go.  Intestacy laws do vary from state to state but typically leave percentages of your assets to family members. 

Not having a will means that at your death the distribution of your assets is dictated by the inheritance laws of the state in which you are domiciled when you died.  So, if you really intended that collection of mint condition 1954  TOPPS baseball cards to go to your cousin Bobby-   but  croaked before you wrote it out in a will - sorry, it may end up in the hands of your brother Jack..  

 In the case example here, the collection of 1954 mint condition baseball cards represents the estate and today it could have a worth of roughly $14,000.  

Many younger people - not oldies - often also have various collections worth significant money but somehow overlook them. Despite having these assets, they neglect to prepare a will for their intended distribution . 

Perhaps the most unforgivable oversight is to neglect having a living will, including directions of what is to be done if you don't revive - say from some operation -- or perhaps a cancer treatment. In my case I needed to have a living will presented for both the 3d staging biopsy at UC Health in January 2017, and the focal cryotherapy in June, 2017.

As I wrote in my post of January 19, before the 45 stick biopsy under general anesthesia:

"Of course, before getting it done you are undergoing a full surgery prep, including being asked if you're an organ donor, and to leave an advanced medical directive (or living will) in case the surgery or anesthesia goes awry - or you hemorrhage."

Yes, it is true I was an older patient.  But, what if you -  as a much younger person,  say a woman of 25 or 26  -  learn you have breast cancer?  Well, you may then need to go under for some recommended operation (mastectomy?)  But it doesn't even have to be cancer, it could be just removing your gall bladder or appendix. Would you really choose to have any of those surgeries without an advanced directive, or living will?  Why, when it would mean possibly living years, decades in a vegetative state?  (At immense cost to your family.)

And look, if you went to the extent of preparing a living will why not go the 'whole hog'  and get a regular will done at the same time?  I mean, in any surgical procedure involving general anesthesia you are having to confront your mortality anyway. So why not man up, or 'woman up' and protect your assets too?

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