Tamara D. Block, Attorney at Law
Timely Topics and Discussion
Beginning two months ago, I only felt I could do serious blogs, serious Facebook posts, etc. Now, I feel that if I only keep up the seriousness until the pandemic is over, I may never be able to make light of things again! So, here is something that one of the financial advisors I work with shared with me the end of February before the pandemic hit. It isn't funny, but it is very sarcastic ... The Top Five Reasons to Die Without a Will:
1. The court dan do a better job deciding how to disburse your assets that you can. For instance, in talking to a client this morning, she discovered that if she doesn't have a contingency for one of her children predeceasing her, her assets would go to her ex-husband. I don't think that was her intention.
2. The court can choose a better personal representative to handle your estate during probate, which will happen if you don't have a will, than you can. Enough said!
3. The court can choose a more caring guardian for your minor children than you can. Not to mention, those children could be in the foster care system until that decision is made.
4. The government will use your estate tax dollars more efficiently than your favorite charity would use a charitable bequest. Yes, Minnesota still has a low threshold for estate taxes when you take in to consideration your life insurance, equity in your home and your retirement plans, so without careful planning you will be paying a tax on some assets you were already taxed on.
5. And, Finally, your grieving loved ones will be better off looking after your affairs without your will. Keep in mind, you are not doing a will for you, it is a gift to your family. It is the last thing they will remember about you and it can leave a lasting impression!
It is hard to keep our spirits up these days, but I am learning to put things in perspective. Every morning I get up to my grandmother’s graduation picture - she was my mentor growing up. But now, even though she’s been gone for ten years, she gives me strength every day in these uncertain times. In her 88 years, this is what she saw - living in a sod house on the prairie she saw a locust plague that even ate their clothes; a measles epidemic; the great stock market crash; the depression; the dust bowl; WWII; the Cold War with the Bay of Pigs; a president’s assassination; 9-11; and many more national and personal tragedies and losses. And she always survived and came out the other side. We will too - optimism and strength is what will get us there!
Thanksgiving is a time where you get notes, e-mails and all sorts of thank yous sent your way. I had the opportunity recently to express my gratitude in an unexpected way. This year, I was introduced to a gentleman in his 30's who was taking care of his wife with terminal cancer. He wanted to be sure that everything was taken care of in case he passed away - to not add more stress to her situation. In addition, he wanted to be sure it was taken care of so that when she passed he didn't have to think about it again. With that relationship, I have received a number of referrals from a support group that he belonged to.
In meeting with one of my prospective clients from that group, she said that meeting with so many of the group's members must be depressing. I thought for a moment and said sometimes yes and sometimes no, but that I can't get much more positive out of it than negative. When working with these clients, I am able to make one part of their situation a little bit easier. I may not be able to cure what is physically ailing them, but I can give them peace of mind that the legal piece will be taken care of.
However, there is one additional benefit that comes from working with these clients. I learn that every day is a gift. It isn't just words - I truly see that every day is a gift. Sometimes that means taking the day off from work, pulling my son and his friend out of school and going to a Twins baseball game.
As you celebrate Thanksgiving with your loved ones, truly live like every day is a gift - happy holidays to you and yours!
I love the fall - the colors, the bonfires, football ... But, I hate what follows here in Minnesota - the snowy winter! However, fall is a great time to do some cleaning and to prepare for the winter to come. It is also a great time to start getting your legal documents in order. I used to find that September was a slow month for clients in this area - people were trying to get back in to the swing of things from a fun filled summer. I am now finding that people want to meet to get things done before the end of the year.
Do a check - do you have a Health Care Directive? Without one, your family may be forced to go to court to make decisions on your behalf. Do you have a Power of Attorney? Again, you may have to go to court to get control and protect your loved one's financial assets. Do you have a will? You may not need one, but having an attorney review your assets will help to protect your loved ones if you should pass away unexpectedly, Did you know that if your spouse is not in title with you on your home, that they may not get possession of it when you pass away - yes, even if they are your spouse!
Consulting with someone to just do a check doesn't need to be hard - it is just like preparing for winter, taken in small steps. If the snowblower is ready to go; if you have the emergency snow kit in the car; if you have good tires on the car; if you have that extra pair of mittens because we always seem to lose just one mitten in the pair - winter doesn't have to be that difficult. Making sure you have everything organized for your loved ones helps them to get through the process of handling financial and legal matters while dealing with their own change of season, if something should happen to you.
It's been a while since I have posted in my blog! No excuses other than life gets busy. Ahh - that sounds like some of my clients, especially this time of year with tax season, spring cleaning, travel, etc. Even I am guilty of it! Although estate planning is so important, only a little over half of the population even have a simple will, let alone a health care directive or power of attorney. And, the ramifications for not having these for your family can be catastrophic. We have all heard the stories - probate lasts for years, health care decisions have to be deferred until court approval ... And, we all mean to get it done, but it is one of those urgent, not important items on your list. However, it is one of the best things you can do for your family. You may live to be 100 years old, but why take that risk? I tell my clients, "You are not doing this for you, but for your loved ones." Please take the time to make sure they don't have to deal with legal issues while they are also dealing with grief, or struggling to help you with a health situation - the best gift you can give is stability!
The holidays are a great time to spend with family and to try to fit in some relaxation. It is also a great time to start your estate planning. I know you are asking, "Why do I want to think of something so serious and sometimes depressing during this time?" There are a couple of reasons. At the holidays you are more likely to be seeing family that you might need to have conversations with regarding whether or not they would be willing to be your personal representative or guardian. It's also a time where all of your children may be with you and you can share what you have planned. Or, it might be a great time for a gifting strategy to help with estate tax planning. The best part about it is that you get a head start on a New Year's Resolution - if you start now you will be finished in January and will be able to mark it off of your resolution list. However, the best reason for doing your planning during the holiday season is because it is a gift. Remember, estate planning is not truly going to benefit you - it is a benefit and gift to your loved ones. Happy Holidays and safe travels wherever you may go during this holiday season!
In Minnesota, August is a big vacation time. I aways stay in Minnesota, except for when I go home to visit my family in South Dakota, because I want to soak in all of the wonderful summer weather, but many people travel while the kids are out of school. This August has been interesting! I have had a number of people reach out to me that are leaving for two to three week vacations and that is driving them to do their estate plans. It is a great time to get your estate planning done and your reward is your vacation. So, if you are looking at traveling in the next few months, reach out to an attorney and make sure things are taken care of before you travel - get that extra piece of mind!
I know estate planning doesn't seem like the most fun thing in the world to do or think about. I know my kids definitely make fun of my work. However, if you are a history buff there can be some fun things to learn. In preparing for a presentation I have to give to my BNI group next week, I pulled up some fun items and provided a link on my home page to even more. Here are a few:
* The longest will known to have been filed in probate court is that of Frederica Evelyn Stilwell Cook. On November 2, 1925, this 1066-page document bounded into 4 leather-bound books filled with gilt-edged paper was filed at the Principal Probate Registry in London. Two of the books had 702 pages, and two books had 406 pages. This monstrous document had an inventory of all Ms. Cook's belongings, including jewelry, laces, furs, dressing bags, embroideries, and art. The majority of her belongings went to her children. The document also stated that her two executors were to bury her wedding ring with her in a grave with a tombstone that did not have her age inscribed on it. She also instructed her executors to burn her diaries.
* A few rich and famous people have died without having a valid will, and that has made things a little messy with their family members:
*If you live in Alberta, Canada, then when you get married your will becomes invalid. But if you get divorced, it will be valid again.
As the sun is out today and the weather is going to be warmer, we can be optimistic and know that spring is coming. I start to plan for all of the things I want to do outside to make the yard look beautiful and how we can enjoy the outdoors. I can't wait!
That is how we should all look at planning - yes, I know it is a stretch :). However, if we look at our estate planning, tax planning, retirement planning and education planning as something that is positive and will allow us to enjoy our future time with out families, it makes it easier to tackle. After I complete an estate planning process with a client, I so often hear, "I am so glad that I got this done. I feel so much better and it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be." If you find the right attorney and the right financial advisor, these are the feelings you should have.
My advice is to take the time to reach out to two or three attorneys or financial advisors before you jump in to the process. Make sure they are a good fit with yours and your family's personality. Ask them questions about how they work with their clients. It is not just about the price you will eventually pay - it will be higher or lower, depending on the professional advisors. This is the person you should be making a long term commitment to work with and you don't want it to be miserable every time you have to meet with them.
You are planting the garden and tending the yard for yours and your family's future - make sure to enjoy the sowing and the weather, not dreading the "work" that is to come!