Funeral Planning: Not a Festive Thought, But A Kind One

Funeral planning as part of your estate plan provides clear, final wishes, names a person to execute them and helps your family cope at a difficult time.

No one wants to do funeral planning, but leaving instructions for your funeral and burial wishes relieves loved ones of the burden of making decisions and hoping they are following your wishes. In addition, says the article “Important to provide instructions for preferred funeral, burial wishes” from The Leader, it also prevents arguments between relatives and friends who have their own opinions about what they think you may have wanted.

What often happens is that people make their funeral plan and final wishes part of their estate plan.  In some states, burial wishes are found in a will.  However, this often presents a problem as the will is usually not looked at until after the funeral. If your loved ones don’t know where your will is, then they certainly won’t know what your wishes were for the funeral.  Without clear written directions, spiritual practices or cultural traditions that are important to you, may not be followed.

An estate planning attorney can help you create a document that outlines your wishes and will have suggestions for how to discuss this with your family and where it should be located.  In Texas, much like in New York as referenced in the article, there is a form that allows you to name an agent who will be in charge of your remains.  In Texas it is called the Appointment for Disposition of Remains.  You can give your instructions to that person in the document which takes the mystery and a lot of the difficulty out of the process.

In Texas, if you don’t name a person to control the disposition of remains, there is an order of priority for decision makers, including spouses, a child, a parent and so on.  If you wouldn’t want those individuals making these decisions, an Appointment for Disposition of Remains is essential.

For funeral planning, one option is to go to the funeral home and arrange to pay for the funeral and go to the cemetery and purchase a plot. In Texas, a pre-need, pre-paid irrevocable burial plan may also be excluded from Medicaid for long-term care purposes.  See here for more on that topic.  https://www.galliganmanning.com/elder-law-questions/

Some people wish to donate their organs, which can be done on a driver’s license or in another statement. This should also be authorized on you Medical Power of Attorney so that your agent has the authority to do so.  Donating your body for medical research or education will require researching medical schools or other institutions and may require an application and other paperwork that confirms your intent to donate your body. When you pass, your family member or whoever is in charge will need to contact the organization and arrange for transport of your remains.

A comprehensive estate plan does more than distribute assets at death. It also includes what a person’s wishes are for their funeral and burial wishes. Think of it as a gift to loved ones.

Reference: The Leader (December 7, 2019) “Important to provide instructions for preferred funeral, burial wishes”

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Estate Planning Without Children: Issues to Consider

Planning without kids
Estate planning without children is just as important, if not more important, then estate planning for couples who do have kids.

Estate planning without kids is very important and raises unique issues to address.  If you and your spouse don’t have children, the focus of your financial legacy may be quite different from what it would be if you were parents.  In fact, due to changing demographics, families often have less children than before or no children.  However, couples often ignore planning as they think they do not need to plan without kids.

Motley Fool’s article, “5 Estate-Planning Tips for Child-Free Couples,” suggests that you may want to leave some of your money to friends, family members, charitable organizations, or your college. No matter the beneficiaries you choose, these estate planning tips are vital for couples without children.

  1. A will. You need a will because couples without children don’t have natural heirs to inherit their wealth. If you die without a will, your assets also may not go to your spouse. The state intestacy laws determine which of your family members inherit from you, especially if neither of you have wills. The family of the first spouse to die may be disinherited.  All of this can be eliminated by having a will directing your inheritance to beneficiaries of your choosing.
  2. A power of attorney. Who will make financial decisions for you, if you and your spouse become incapacitated? You can select a person to do this with a power of attorney (POA). You can name a person to pay bills, manage your investments and handle property matters, if you’re unable to do so yourself.  Failing to do so may require an expensive guardianship.  You also very much need medical powers of attorney so that someone you know can make medical decisions for you if you and your spouse cannot.
  3. Up-to-date beneficiaries. If you have retirement accounts or life insurance policies, the distribution of the proceeds at your death is made by a beneficiary designation, not by your will. A frequent beneficiary error is not keeping those designations current.
  4. Give money to charity now. You may think about leaving your assets to organizations that have enriched your life. You can set up a trust to be sure that your money goes where you want. Work with an experienced estate planning attorney to accomplish this.
  5. Remember the pets. If you have furry children, plan for their care when you’re not around to tend to them yourself. You can also put money into a trust specifically intended for the animal’s care or designate an organization that will provide lifetime care for your pet with money you earmark to that purpose as well as name a caretaker to care of the pet after you are both gone.

Remember that estate planning without children is needed just as much as planning for couples with children, and maybe even more.  Considering these issues will help ensure you are protecting in your own estate plan and your inheritance goes to the beneficiaries you choose.

Reference: Motley Fool (September 9, 2019) “5 Estate-Planning Tips for Child-Free Couples”

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Understanding Why a Will is Important

A Will is an important estate planning tool that describes your wishes for your property after death and who is responsible to see your wishes through.

These questions presented by The Westerly Sun in the article “Making a will is an important legal step,” may seem very basic, but many people don’t really understand how a will works and why they are such an important part of estate planning. Let’s go through these fundamentals about wills.

A will is a legal document that must be prepared under very strict standards to explain your wishes about how you want your estate–that is, your property, money, tangible possessions, and real estate—distributed after you die.

A will also does more than that.  A will, which is sometimes referred to as a “Last Will and Testament,” also makes clear who is going to be in charge of your affairs after death, by naming them as executor of your estate.

A complete estate plan includes a will and several other documents, including a power of attorney, healthcare power of attorney and potentially a trust.  The goal of all of these documents is to make it easier for your surviving spouse or loved ones to take care of you and your affairs, if you become too ill to speak on your own behalf or when you die.

Your will provides instructions about what happens to your estate. Who should receive your money and property? These instructions must be followed by the person you choose as your executor. The local probate court must give its approval, and then the estate can be distributed.

If you have a valid will, it is admitted to probate (a court process) upon your death, and then your wishes are followed. If you don’t have a will, you are said to have died “intestate.” The laws of the state, and not you, and not your loved ones, decide what will happen to everything you own that is subject to the intestacy process. Usually this means that assets are distributed to family members based on their degree of kinship with you.  In Texas, it also means there may be a separate process to determine who those heirs are, which can be time intensive and costly.

It also may not be what you wanted. If you have minor children, the Court may appoint a guardian for those children, or may establish a court monitored trust for the property they receive until they are old enough to handle their own affairs.  All of these extra steps and complexity make a will necessary.

Many clients chose to also use trusts as part of their estate plan and coordinate the trust with the will.  This provides the added benefit of avoiding the probate process, making administration even easier.  Even if you use a trust in your estate plan, you may still need a will in conjunction with that trust.   See here for more details.  https://www.galliganmanning.com/how-do-trusts-work-in-your-estate-plan/

No one likes to think about dying, or becoming incapacitated, but by planning ahead and working with an experienced estate planning attorney to prepare a will, you can determine what you want to happen, and protect those you love.

Reference: The Westerly Sun (August 18, 2019) “Making a will is an important legal step”

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