Thinking About the Hard Estate Planning Questions

Sep 01, 2012  /  By: Geoffrey H. Garrett, Estate Planning Attorney  /  Category: Estate Planning, Final Arrangements, Incapacity Planning

As a recent Forbes article illustrates, the reason many people don’t have any estate plan is not that they don’t realize they should or are too lazy to do it, but rather because thinking about estate planning requires us to confront some difficult questions. These questions involve issues about illness, mortality, and even personal regrets, and as such can be very difficult to face. Thinking about these questions early and knowing you will have to answer them at some point can greatly ease your mind as you begin estate planning.

Question 1. When should your family let you go?

If you should develop a serious illness or injury, one which your doctors do not believe you will recover from, you will need an estate plan that spells out your wishes. Even if your family is eager to maintain your health regardless of the expense, you may want a different option. Deciding what you want and speaking to your family about it is often a very difficult process, but also one that can be rewarding and lead to closer family relationships.

Question 2. Are you hiding anything from your spouse?

Some couples are very open in their communications, while for others that process is more difficult. Some spouses may even keep closely guarded secrets from one another, even for their entire lifetimes. If you’ve had previous relationships, estranged family members, or even children from past marriages, all of these issues will need to be addressed when you speak to your estate planning attorney. Even if you choose not to reveal them to your spouse, your attorney needs to know about them so your estate plan can be complete.

Byrd : Garrett, PLLC is a member of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys.

Religion and Estate Planning

Jun 25, 2012  /  By: Geoffrey H. Garrett, Estate Planning Attorney  /  Category: Estate Planning, Final Arrangements, Inheritance Planning

As a recent Wall Street Journal article points out, religious concerns in estate planning are often more important to people than questions about financial or material concerns. Your estate planning attorney exists to help you develop a plan that not only meets your needs, but also your desires. If you have specific religious concerns about your estate plan you need to inform your attorney about these concerns so you can both develop a plan that takes them into consideration.

1. Medical directives.

For some religious people, the question of medical treatment near the end of life is of prime importance. You may have religious concerns about some of the types of treatments you may or may not wish receive in the event you’re incapacitated. If this is the case, you should carefully review your medical directives and include specific terms detailing your desires.

2. Inheritances

Some people choose to leave inheritances based upon certain religious restrictions, such as requiring that a grandchild marry someone of a specific faith. While this type of restricted inheritance is generally permissible, it can lead to legal conflicts that end up costing the estate money. In this situation, it may be more beneficial to create a trust and nominate a trustee who can manage the trust in accordance with religious principles.

Byrd : Garrett, PLLC is a member of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys.

The Washington Death With Dignity Act: Part 3 of 3

Feb 06, 2012  /  By: Geoffrey H. Garrett, Estate Planning Attorney  /  Category: Elder Law, Final Arrangements

Another important legal element under the Washington Death with Dignity Act is that a terminally ill patient may only request lethal doses of medication to end their life from a qualified physician. A qualified physician is one with a Washington State medical license to practice medicine or osteopathy. Once a terminally ill patient makes their written request, the physician does not have to comply with their request. The physician has an absolute legal right to decline participation. Similarly, a physician who approves the request does not have to physically witness the self-assisted suicide.

Family members do not have legal notification rights under the Washington Death with Dignity Act. This means that a terminally ill patient does not have to notify any of their relatives of their desire to end their life. However, once a qualified physician receives the terminally ill patient’s written request for the lethal medication, the act requires the physician to recommend that the patient notify their next of kin. The attending physician does not have to verify or otherwise make sure of the patient’s actual notification. It is sufficient that the attending physician simply recommend the notification to the patient’s next of kin.

Byrd : Garrett, PLLC is a member of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys.

The Washington Death With Dignity Act: Part 2 of 3

Feb 06, 2012  /  By: Geoffrey H. Garrett, Estate Planning Attorney  /  Category: Elder Law, Final Arrangements

The Washington Death with Dignity Act applies to Washington State residents with valid proof of residency. The terminally ill individual must establish proof of residency by providing a registration to vote in the state, proof of property ownership within Washington, or a Washington State driver’s license. The state may accept other forms of proof to establish residency. Once a terminally ill patient establishes residency, they can make a request for a lethal dose of medication from a qualified physician. A terminally ill patient is one who suffers from a terminal illness with less than six months to live and which will eventually lead to death within this timeframe.

The Washington Death with Dignity Act includes an important statutory witness prohibition. A person who is a potential heir under the patient’s will or intestate heir through the state’s intestate succession laws cannot serve as a witness. Thus, you may have to speak with your estate planning attorney to understand who may be entitled to inherit a portion of the estate at death.

Byrd : Garrett, PLLC is a member of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys.

The Washington Death With Dignity Act: Part 1 of 3

Feb 06, 2012  /  By: Geoffrey H. Garrett, Estate Planning Attorney  /  Category: Elder Law, Final Arrangements

In 2008, the Washington State Legislature passed the Death with Dignity Act. Codified in the Revised Code of Washington, the act permits physicians to help their patients die with their assistance in very limited circumstances. In other words, physician-assisted suicide is permissible in certain situations. Obviously very controversial, many residents opposed the act, while some strongly supported its passage. The next series of blogs will cover the specific elements of the act and further explain what is necessary to invoke the statutory ability to perform a self-assisted suicide.

The Washington Death with Dignity Act allows adults age 18 or older with terminal illnesses the legal right to make an informed decision to end their lives with the assistance of their physicians. A terminally ill patient must have less than six months to live to seek coverage under the act. Furthermore, only qualified physicians may make decisions to administer controlled medication to residents seeking to end their lives. In other words, a Washington resident must ask their physician to prescribe certain medication for the specific purpose of ending their life, and the patient must self-administer the medication.

Byrd : Garrett, PLLC is a member of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys.

Should I Include Instructions for My Health Care and Burial in My Will?

Nov 28, 2011  /  By: Geoffrey H. Garrett, Estate Planning Attorney  /  Category: Final Arrangements, Health Care Directives, Wills and Trusts

Your will is used for only three things and health care instructions and burial arrangements are not included in those three things.

Your will only appoints guardians for minor children, if you have them; appoints a personal representative (i.e. executor); and, distributes your assets.  Nothing else.

Any health care instructions in a will are legally ineffective.  It’s as if they don’t exist.  Why?  Because your will is not effective until you die.  You need health care instructions while you’re alive.  Instead, place health care instructions in an advanced medical directive such as a medical power of attorney, living will, organ donation authorization, and HIPAA release.

Burial arrangements in wills tend not to work because such arrangements are made immediately after death; your will isn’t likely to be located and read until after you’re final arrangements are completed.  So, it will be too late and it won’t work.  Final arrangements should be written and placed with your other estate planning documents and other important papers.

The key to having an estate plan that works; having health care instructions that are honored; and, burial arrangements that are followed is communication.  Talk to your loved ones.

First, let your loved ones, verbally, know what you want and don’t want; then, second, put your wishes in writing; and, third, show your loved ones where you keep your important papers, including your health care documents and final arrangement wishes.

Remember, your will is only effective if you’re dead and it’s not usually read until after your final arrangements are complete.  Therefore, it’s necessary to put your wishes in other documents; and, communicate with your family so they know your wishes and know where to find your documents.

Consult with a qualified health care attorney to ensure that your health care wishes and final arrangement wishes are drafted as you wish, and drafted legally.

Byrd : Garrett, PLLC is a member of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys.

What are the Benefits to Funeral Pre-Planning?

Sep 28, 2011  /  By: Geoffrey H. Garrett, Estate Planning Attorney  /  Category: Final Arrangements

If you haven’t thought about funeral arrangements, it is, likely, in your best interests to take a moment to do so.  You can outline your wishes ahead of time; take a look at the benefits of having a plan in place.  If you have any questions, or if you’d like to discuss ways to plan your funeral arrangements as part of your estate plan, contact an estate planning attorney.
While it can be difficult to think about, pre-planning your funeral arrangements has many benefits:

 

  • Having a plan in place can give you and your loved ones a greater peace of mind; you know you’ll have your wishes honored and your loved ones know that they don’t have to make difficult decisions that often lead to family discord;
  • You can set up a funeral trust at your bank; pre-paying at a funeral home is not recommended because of historical difficulties such as funeral homes switching owners or going out of business;
  • By choosing to save for your arrangements, your loved ones will not have to take out loans or stress about fronting the money to pay for your services;
  • Your loved ones will be able to focus on remembering you and the life that you lead, rather than having to focus on making sure your affairs are in order

 

Take the time to consider pre-planning your funeral arrangements.  You may have fears about doing so or feel uncomfortable; this is completely normal.  No one wants to think about death.  Know that by having a plan in place, you will be able to make your affairs less stressful for your loved one in the future; and, you’ll get what you want.

 

If you’re ready to begin planning your funeral arrangements, consult with a qualified estate planning attorney.

Byrd : Garrett, PLLC is a member of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys.

Include Funeral Planning in Your Estate Plan

May 03, 2011  /  By: Geoffrey H. Garrett, Estate Planning Attorney  /  Category: Final Arrangements

While it can be difficult to think about your own death, taking the time to outline your own funeral can ensure you get the services you desire and it is beneficial for your loved ones.  After your death, your loved ones will struggle to deal with their loss.  It can be upsetting and overwhelming making difficult funeral planning decisions during the grieving process.  Consider including your own funeral planning in your estate plan.  If you have questions about funeral planning, meet with an estate planning attorney.�
What can I accomplish with my funeral planning? 

You can include a variety of things in your funeral planning.  The following are some examples:

  • You can decide if you’d like to be cremated or buried
  • You can decide what type of service you’d like to have
  • You can decide who you’d like to be invited to your services and if you’d like a public or private service
  • You can mention special readings or list a special speaker or singer
  • You can outline donation requests

 

These are just some of the things that you might choose to outline in your funeral planning.  There are no specific requirements for your funeral planning other than to abide my state and local laws, which are minimal.

How can I include funeral planning in my estate plan?

You should not include funeral planning in your will, because in many cases, your will is not read until days or weeks after your death.  Some people choose to give their planning wishes to the executor of their will while also making sure that their attorney and loved ones have copies of their planning information.  Speak with your estate planning attorney about your specific funeral planning wishes.  It’s important to make sure that your loved ones know that you’ve taken the time to plan.

If you have additional questions about funeral planning, consult with a qualified estate planning attorney.

Byrd : Garrett, PLLC is a member of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys.

Picking the Right Type of Burial for You

Sep 24, 2010  /  By: Geoffrey H. Garrett, Estate Planning Attorney  /  Category: Final Arrangements

If you have special beliefs or desires regarding your burial, you can create a funeral plan for your family to follow. In your plan you can include your thoughts on your memorial service as well as your preferred burial method. There are three common types of burial: traditional, cremation, and green. The type of burial you choose may depend upon your spiritual beliefs and your personality.

Traditional

A traditional burial is still the most commonly used. This type of burial includes a sealed casket, a concrete burial vault, a headstone, and other services such as embalming. Because they are the norm, traditional burials can help your family members grieve in a manner they are familiar with. There are two downsides to traditional burial. Preserving a body against the elements can be quite costly as well as harmful to the environment. To reduce expenses, your family can order a cheaper casket from a wholesaler and avoid funeral home packages that include unnecessary services.

Cremation

For those who want to avoid the expense of traditional burial, cremation is an option. This form of disposal is quick and saves a great deal of money as well as the land that would be needed for burial. Because it saves land, cremation is considered more environmentally friendly than traditional burial. The process, however, does emit pollutants. Although, some crematories have succeeded in cutting the pollution rate in half. Another disadvantage is that many family members prefer to have a traditional burial with a grave site to visit.

Green Burial

A third option and one that seems like a new fad but is actually quite old is green burial. A green burial is does not use embalming, concrete vaults and sealed caskets to preserve the body from the elements. Caskets are made of biodegradable materials and in some cases shrouds may be used instead. In green cemeteries, there are no concrete headstones to mark graves. This preserves the landscape. Green burial is an environmentally friendly option and it can help you save money over traditional burial. It may, however, be an adjustment for those more familiar with traditional burial.

Byrd : Garrett, PLLC is a member of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys.

After You’ve Lost A Loved One…

Jul 30, 2010  /  By: Geoffrey H. Garrett, Estate Planning Attorney  /  Category: Estate Planning, Final Arrangements

There is little doubt that losing a spouse or parent can be one of the most traumatic experiences you will ever have. Yet, even though you’ll be dealing with severe emotional distress, there will still be many details that you will need to attend to. If you are facing this type of loss, there are some steps that you can take to help ease the burden of many of the formalities that you must deal with.

It is important that you let friends and family know about the death as soon as possible. If you feel you cannot do this on your own, ask another family member to help out by notifying others of the loss.

The next step will be to make funeral arrangements, as well as attend to the obituary. When you meet with the funeral director they will want to know how many copies of the death certificate you will need – it is best to order several copies so that you have them on hand.

You will also need to contact both government and private entities that were providing benefits to the deceased; this may include the Social Security Administration, insurance companies, and employers. At the time you contact these entities, you will want to ask about any survivor’s benefits that you may be entitled to.

Documents You Will Need

There are many documents that you will need to have available to you after the death of a loved one.

  • Funeral plans written by the deceased,
  • The Last Will & Testament
  • All bank account statements, as well as any brokerage and retirement accounts statements.
  • Social Security number
  • Any documents pertaining to a business or an ownership interest in a business.
  • Life insurance policy or documents pertaining to annuities
  • Birth certificates, death certificates, and marriage license
  • Deeds and titles to any real estate or motor vehicles
  • Pension plan
  • Health insurance information
  • Past tax returns
  • An inventory of all of the deceased personal belongings

After family and friends have been notified and final arrangements are made, there will still be some additional phone calls necessary. You will also need to call your attorney, the estate’s executor, and your loved one’s estate planning attorney. Depending on the will and who the beneficiaries are, it will probably be necessary to provide proof of death to the institutions that hold the deceased’s accounts, as well as tax officials, etc.

Just remember that you don’t have to do everything alone. Enlist the help of family and friends and rely on your estate planning attorney to walk you through the formalities. There’s nothing that can take away the pain of your loss but having loved ones close to you during this time can help ease the burden and give you time to grieve.

Byrd : Garrett, PLLC is a member of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys.