The Peace of Mind is Priceless
Robin Lang, HomePN Consumer
Kudos to Oley for establishing a planned giving program. It ensures our organization will be there in the future for others. I owe my improved quality of life to the services Oley provides. I’m glad to give back, and recently, I discovered just how easy that is to do.
This summer my mother lost a dear friend and neighbor of 50 years. While stricken with grief, we were also stricken with fear. This friend was the executrix of my mother’s will. Typically, it’s events like these that force us to look at our own mortality and plans. A trustworthy friend recommended an estate attorney, and after a brief meeting, my mother’s will was swiftly changed. My mother commented that the original will she and my father had had wasn’t as in depth as the new will. That’s true because laws change, hence it’s a good practice to review your will periodically.
I realized that I should review my will, too. My original was fine 15 years ago, but a lot has changed since then. My son is now an adult, my financial situation has improved, and I’ve moved twice. The other reason I wanted to review my will, was my travel plans in the near future; the “what ifs” began running through my mind. What if the plane crashes, or if I became deathly ill, who would speak for me if I can’t? Who would get my house and possessions? Would my estate be hung up in probate court for months? Should I have a living will? What about organ donation, and charitable giving?
Armed with questions, I returned to the attorney that helped my mom. I live in Maine, my mother lives in Massachusetts; it’s interesting how each state handles these issues differently. For example, in Massachusetts doctors aren’t forced to abide by a living will. Maine law mandates it. (In fact, Massachusetts is only one of several states that does not require living wills to be honored under law). Also in Maine, if an agent under a power of attorney absconds with someone’s assets, they can be held criminally liable and may be prosecuted. In Massachusetts, if someone does the same, the state may suggest a civil suit and not pursue the agent criminally. In effect saying, “You should’ve picked a more trustworthy person.”
General Rules and Wisdom
Here are a few things to consider.
A Will: This tells who you want your property and possessions to pass to. Typically wills must go through probate court, which can take 9 to 18 months. The court’s role is to make sure that the will your executor or attorney presents, is in fact the last will; that all the taxes and expenses are paid; and that all of your property is properly distributed to the people/charities it lists. Once all of the property is accounted for and distributed, then the court can close the case.
Wills are changeable; let’s say you win the lottery the day after you create a will and you’d like to give more to a person or an organization; with a few stokes on the word processor, your will can reflect that change. Giving a percentage of your estate is highly recommended because of the example above. Instead of amending your will, you simply state in the beginning that a percentage of the estate, instead of a dollar amount, will pass to those you care for, no need for the word processor. Wills should be reviewed at least every 5 years. (A recent study showed the average time between updates is 19.6 years.) Wills drawn in one state can be carried to another state. Living wills are not recognized by all states.
Power of attorney: this is a person you choose to act for you in regard to money matters if you cannot; i.e. your chosen agent can access your bank account for you or pay your bills. You can choose your spouse, a sibling, a good friend, or anyone you trust. (A side note: most companies are understanding and will waive late fees and interest charges if you provide a doctor’s note.) Say you give to Oley every holiday, but you become ill; your agent can continue your gifting schedule for you.
Health care power of attorney: This is a person you choose to speak for you, should you become unable to yourself. He/she can provide your doctors with your living will and other personal health instructions. This person can be the same person as the agent you chose to have power of attorney. If you haven’t chosen someone to speak for you, I strongly suggest you do so. Carry their name and contacting information in your wallet. Two years ago, I had pneumonia and was placed on a respirator. The doctors wanted to pull my TPN catheter, but thankfully my mother intervened; the catheter was saved because the line wasn’t the cause of the problem.
Health care directives: Health care directives are not recognized by all states. Check with your primary care physician; if he/she is unwilling to support your wishes, you might consider finding a new primary care physician.
Organ donation: Many consumers think their organs are invalid for transplant consideration. I hear a lot of people say, “No one wants any of my parts.” This is a common misconception. Even a small piece of skin or artery can aid another person. If organ donation is not something you’ve ever considered, I’m not suggesting you change your mind; however, if you like the idea, don’t discount your contribution solely on the fact that you’ve been using HPEN. If it’s your intent to be a donor, be sure that the person you’ve selected as health care agent and your family, understand and will abide by your wishes.
POD and TOD Accounts: Terms meaning Payable on Death, Transfer on Death. Your accounts can be set up with another name attached, similar to a joint account, except the other person listed can only get the money when you die. These accounts do not go through probate. The account passes or transfers in total, or a percentage, to a person, or persons whose name appears on the account. This is the easiest, fastest way to give to your heirs and/or favorite charity.
Beneficiaries: There are many beneficiaries on our papers; bank accounts, wills, life insurance policies, 401Ks, IRAs, etc. Another way of planned giving is this: let’s say you took out a life insurance policy 20 years ago, and your beneficiary was your daughter. She has subsequently grown and is now financially well off. Maybe you’d like to change the beneficiary so that she and your favorite charity now split the insurance. The message here is to review the beneficiaries on your documents. Are they still current? Do you have more children/grandchildren or a charity you’d like to remember? In some cases insurance policies purchased years ago are worth more now as cash than as the payout at death. Cash them in, take it as a windfall and/or give a percentage to charity and receive a tax break. These changes are simple and easy.
I hate to admit that I am getting older. I don’t like to think about death and all this other stuff, but since I made a new will with clear instructions, health care directive, etc.; the peace of mind is priceless.
As Robin noted, each state has different laws, but we have a resource that can get you on the right path. Oley volunteer Stephanie Pelham is a Registered Dietitian and an Agent: Registered Representative of NYLife Securities. She is happy to offer assistance to Oley members. For more information, call Stephanie at (888) 773-5426, or Oley at (800) 776-OLEY.