The Business of Dying
Mystery authors analyze death, dissect it, examine it, and explore it. What we neglect to do is prepare for it as it relates to our own lives. Death also has ugly companions–disability and dementia. It is our unalienable right to take responsibility for our own lives, which includes our demise.
Make a complete inventory of personal obligations to other individuals/pets, possessions owned out-right or jointly, assets such as bank accounts, safe deposit boxes, insurance policies or pension rights with their location, business entities, and financial obligations.
Each individual is different, but so are the laws that govern inheritance for each state. Do a search to learn these laws as they apply to you. Americans are a mobile population and this may entail redoing your work each time you change residence to a different state.
Consider and list all the people who could serve as executors of your wishes, guardians for minor children, or caretakers for your pets. Contact them and ascertain if they are willing and are able to serve in this capacity.
You can write your final instructions. This is called a holographic document, but it must be done in long hand, witnessed, and notarized to be accepted by the probate court. Most libraries have blank copies of standard generic will forms, which you can obtain for a small fee plus dozens of how-to books.
Take your inventories and personal information to a reputable lawyer who specializes in estate law. That person will be able to advise you as to the little nuisances you may have forgotten and the function of probate law. It could be the best investment you will ever make.
An accident or a disease can render a person unable to communicate so the first order of planning is to consider the consequences if this should happen.
Consider your situation, your family, your friends, companions, etc. and do some hard thinking.
Who will be responsible for your care and rehabilitation?
Who can assume the costs when all of your insurance is exhausted?
Who must deal with the myriad of forms required for public assistance?
Generic forms can help, but read them carefully. Read and understand every item and clause before you ever sign anything. Discuss the provisions of any legal instrument mentioned with family or friends who will be affected by your decisions.
Durable Power of Attorney
Acquire a durable power of attorney; give the grantee a copy. Write your own, to suit your needs. Retain the original.
“Durable” does not mean it is viable after death. The grantee cannot take any new actions in your name, only clear up old ones executed prior to your death.
Investigate the powers this legal instrument conveys before you sign. Relationships do change, when they do, your legal arrangements must to be revised to cover the new situation and the old one destroyed.
Do you want to be kept alive by machines while the courts fight over your remains?
Do you want to be an organ donor? Some states make provisions for this procedure on the back of your driver’s license. Kentucky is one.
Do you prefer cremation or a green burial?
A living will is a painless procedure and simple to execute. Consider it after a power of attorney.
Wills or Trusts
At this point you should consider your assets and how they will be distributed after your demise. Be careful how you structure your bequests.
If you have children who are underage, who will assume guardianship?
How will the proceeds from your assets benefit them to last long enough to pay for their rearing and education?
These are two examples of questions that need to be answered, but there are many others.
This is where you should sit down with an attorney and plan for a future when you are not around to manage for your loved ones. Under all circumstances, make sure all provisions are clearly spelled out.
Provide a specific numerical value for trust funds to be paid to the executor for their services. For many people a trust is a much wiser document than a simple will. Some forms of trusts avoid the probate court and avoid the draining of the estate by inheritance taxes, court fees, and administrator’s gratuities.
Whatever you choose remember the document is a living instrument and must be updated to reflect changes in all your personal and professional life.
Nash Black’s award nominated book is Writing as a Small Business. Their current novel is Sandprints of Death and is available at amazon.com by clicking here. Both are available as Kindle editions.