It’s not unusual for a person to pass away and leave behind some unpaid debt.
For the heirs — typically the surviving spouse or children — the question often is what, exactly, happens to those obligations. The answer: It depends on both the type of debt and the laws of the state.
A person’s assets — no matter how meager or massive — become their “estate” at death. That includes their financial accounts, possessions and real estate. And, generally speaking, it’s the estate that creditors go after when they try to collect money that they’re owed.
“Fortunately for surviving spouses or other beneficiaries, in most cases that debt isn’t something they’d be responsible for,” said certified financial planner Shon Anderson, president of Anderson Financial Strategies in Dayton, Ohio.
However, there are some exceptions.
First, though, some basics.
The process of paying off all your debt after your death and then distributing any remaining assets from your estate to heirs is called probate. Each state has its own laws governing how long creditors have to make a claim against the estate during that time. In some places it’s a few months. In other states, the process can last a couple of years.
Each state also has its own set of rules for prioritizing debt that should be paid from the estate, said Steven Mignogna, a fellow with the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel.
“In most states, funeral expenses take priority, then the cost of administering the estate, then taxes and then most states include hospital and medical bills,” Mignogna said.
However, he added, not all of a person’s assets necessarily are counted as part of an estate for probate purposes.
For instance, with life insurance policies and qualified retirement accounts (e.g., a 401(k) or individual retirement account), those assets go directly to the person named as the beneficiary and are not subject to probate. Additionally, assets placed in certain types of trusts also pass on outside of probate, as does jointly owned property (e.g., a house) as long as it is titled properly.
In fact, a person could pass away with an insolvent estate — that is, one lacking the means to pay off its liabilities — and yet have passed on assets that didn’t go through probate and generally can’t be touched by creditors.
However, a handful of states have “community property” laws, which make debt at death a bit more complex.
Generally, those states view both assets and certain debt that accumulated during the marriage as equally owned by each spouse — meaning a surviving spouse could be responsible for paying back the debt, even if it was only in the decedent’s name.
“Debt that couldn’t have been avoided during the marriage — like medical expenses or a mortgage — generally becomes the responsibility of the surviving spouse in community property states,” said CFP Bill Simonet, principal advisor at Simonet Financial Group in Kyle, Texas.
Yet that doesn’t mean you’d have to pay all of it, he said.
“A well-structured letter with a copy of the death certificate can lead to debt being discharged,” Simonet said. “In the probate process, you let the company know the estate has little to no assets to cover the debt and you ask that it be forgiven.”
Also, any time you jointly own debt — i.e., you cosigned a loan — you’re expected to continue paying if the other person passes away.
“You can ask for debt you cosigned to be forgiven, but don’t expect the request to work,” Simonet said.
It’s worth noting that federal student loans, unlike most forms of debt, are forgiven if the student dies. Parent PLUS loans — often held by parents to help pay for education expenses not covered by other forms of financial aid — are discharged if either the student or the parent who took out the loan passes away.
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and dying in Mexico
by Russ Hilderley
USA AND CANADIAN expats face a small mountain of paperwork should someone close to them die in Mexico. An even higher mountain of forms, certified translations, lists of possessions, is forced on loved ones left behind, should the deceased not have any type of ” Last Will and Testament.”
In 2019, 50,000 Canadians were living in Mexico. 182 died. 75% were from natural causes which likely does not include “seasoned” expats sidestepping sidewalk “cenotes”, tripping over abandonned building materials or struck by vehicular traffic while navigating uneven walkways and driveway indentations.
It would seem pedestrians are trampling on private sidewalks originally built by the abutting landholders, but never maintained by them. Uneven heights, slopes, broken curbs and the like can reak havoc on retirees who fly here and walk everywhere thereafter.
Two and a half million Canadians visited Mexico as tourists last year. A significant percentage are in the autumn years of their lives. They may be in Yucatan for six weeks or six months, to escape the colder climate “up north”! Snowbirds(as Canadians and residents from the northern U.S. are called) have an inherent duty to their families “back home”! All expats and tourists alike would be well advised to make it easier to cope, upon the death of a loved one. Important and critical personal information about the deceased must be available to the Mexican authorities from day one. Regardless of your country of origin, the burden is essentially the same.
The whole procedure following the death of an expat residing or visiting Mexico can be daunting for next of kin. The deceased’s identity must be thoroughly established in accordance with Mexican laws.
If the name on the birth certificate is even slightly different from their passport, the transition from one name to another MUST be explained and vertified accordingly. It is particularly cumbersome, should the deceased be a woman. Her birth name could be different through one or more marriages. In each step,the documentation will require translation to “Español” by a registered and authorized translator. The same rules apply to ALL documentation required. “The Last Will”, the identification of all possessions with current valuation held in Mexico by the deceased and the name(s) of next of kin who should be notified, must all be translated in to Spanish .
Expats are urged to maintain a special file back home, or here in Yucatan or Mexico. A designated family member or friend should be aware of this file and where it is stored. The”paperwork” could already be translated and certified. The “executor” of the expat’s estate should be identified with all neccessary contact information tucked away with the deceased passport .
Representatives from the Canadian Consulate in Cancun and similarly designated personnel from the USA Consulate in Merida, appeared before an overflow crowd of over 150 expats at Flamingos Restaurant on the Malecon in Progreso, last Tuesday January 14th,2020.
A funeral home in the Yucatan, is a primary step, to walk you through the process. Cremated remains can be exported within a day or two. A casket requires one or more weeks . The Funeral Director can not forward any valuables such as rings and other jewellry, computers etc..These must be claimed by the contact identified in the Will, or otherwise verifiable family.
Expats living in Yucatan as “Temporary or Permanent” residents should have the LONGFORM marriage certificate which is normally not issued but available in the State or Province where the marriage was performed. This document and your birth certificate should be carried with you as you travel.
Most travellers are optimistic and excited about spending their vacations and retirement without giving much thought to the consequences if they die abroad. Sure,they may have medical and life insurance but forget all the details and information required to repatriate their remains.
To use the now famous phrase quoting reknowned Woody Allen,when asked what would happen to his fortune when he dies, he replied: “If I can’t take it with me, I’m not going” !
We all wish it was that simple!
Complete Article ↪HERE↩!
by Mona Chalabi
Jerry Burton was a frugal man. So frugal, in fact, that his possession of an organ donor card was motivated by his disdain for waste. While he was still in hospice care, Jerry made it clear to his son and daughter-in-law that they should shop around to get a good deal on his funeral. They did. In total, the transportation of Jerry’s body, the cremation, and the pickleball tournament that he wanted to be held before his service cost $695. Such bargains are a rarity in America’s modern funeral industry.
The median pricetag of a funeral in 2017 was $7,360—a cost that would take the typical US worker five months of labor to cover. Because of these high prices, many families are panicking at the same time that they are grieving.
The death of Kara Killeen’s father was followed by calculations that provide a depressing tally of the average American’s struggles. Student debt bills meant that Kara and her sister had less money in the bank (and much of her dad’s retirement money had gone toward helping them cover those repayments, as well as the family’s mortgage). Limited care provision under Medicare meant that Kara’s mother had lost her job to look after her sick husband (and since her job had been writing for the local newspaper, there wasn’t exactly an abundance of new vacancies for her to apply for later). And, like many American families today, the Killeens don’t all live in the same city, so there were flights to think about, in addition to the funeral costs.
Fortunately, an aunt was able to cover Kara’s flight back from Scotland to Ohio. Unfortunately, the fact that Kara needed an intermediary in another time zone to book her travel meant that she made it back two days after her father’s death. Once reunited, the family looked at their funeral options; they were shocked at the prices they were hearing. A reception in a local bar where her dad had been a regular customer would cost $3,000, including catering. They could have held it at their family home for free, instead, but that wasn’t really viable: Kara had come back to discover the house where her mother had cared for her dying husband was a messy cross between a hospital and a home. An urn would have cost $275, programs $160, and an obituary $200, according to the latest averages from the National Funeral Directors Association.
In the end, with her aunt’s financial support, Kara’s family was able to pay for the cheapest option available: Kara’s father was cremated and his remains were returned to the family in a plastic bag, and there was no funeral. The family still faced a bill for $2,000. “His final mark on the world was just to not have enough money,” Kara told me, bitterly. Funerals are supposed to be a chance to grieve, mourn, and begin the process of emotional recovery after a death; but when money is tight, they can feel like a second trauma.
In the movies at least, funerals are a chance to meet old friends that you didn’t even know that your dearly departed had. To hear stories that you had never heard before. “You expect everyone to be there,” Kara said. We infer much about a life from a funeral. For no service to be held might imply some secret shame. A small gathering might indicate a lack of popularity. Cheap flowers suggest, well, cheapness. Each of these sentences could just as easily apply to another of life’s landmark social gatherings—weddings—except that marriage customs have changed faster than our death customs.
It is a matter of personal prerogative whether a couple spends their life-savings on a Star Trek-themed extravaganza or just heads to city hall with two strangers pulled off the street to act as witnesses. That choice is more likely to be seen as a question of taste rather than of moral character. But when the social occasion requires people to be present to honor someone who is absent, then the rules change.
The desire not to skimp (or at least, to be seen not skimping) leads us to make bad decisions according to Joshua Slocum, the executive director of the Funeral Consumers Alliance, a nonprofit watchdog. “It’s a distressed purchase,” he explained. “No one wants to buy a funeral.” Our decisions are clouded, not just by grief but by the fact that there is no requirement for funeral homes to email you a pricelist or post one on their website. “I can’t think of any other business sector that doesn’t allow you to shop around,” Slocum added. So families will simply choose whichever funeral home they used the last time they had to hold a service.
What those families rarely realize is that their local funeral home, once run as a “mom-and-pop” family business, is now probably owned by a Wall Street firm. Service Corporation International, or SCI, for example, operates 1,477 funeral service locations and 483 cemeteries across the country, and is worth $13.3 billion (for comparison, the countrywide clothing chain Gap Inc. is worth $8 billion). Shareholders expect dividends and they have to come from somewhere: according to Slocum, SCI charges between 40 percent and 75 percent more for its services than independent funeral homes do.
The price of dying is also high because there are simply too many funeral homes. Slocum gives me the example of Montpelier in Vermont, the smallest state capital (by population) in the country. The city has two fully serviced funeral homes that, between them, handle an average of seventy-six deaths a year. These businesses have to keep prices high if they want to cover their mortgages and pay their staff.
I asked Slocum why he became involved in funeral consumers’ rights. He replied simply, “I love Mitford.” It was after reading Jessica Mitford’s classic muckraking polemic on the American funeral industry, The American Way of Death (originally published in 1963), that he became fascinated by the industry and wanted to know more. Little of substance has really changed in the business since Mitford’s book was published except for the escalating prices. Back in 1960, the cost of a funeral was around $700—still a considerable amount of money in real terms, amounting to about seven weeks of a typical worker’s wages at that time (as noted above, by the same measure, today’s figure is at least twenty weeks).
Funeral charges have risen for the same reason that prices have always risen: a disconnect between demand and supply. For a combination of reasons—cost, changing mores, and environmental concerns—more consumers now want their remains and those of their relatives to be burned rather than buried, but the US funeral industry is largely stuck in the past. In fairness, this cultural change has come relatively quickly: in 1960, when Mitford was researching her study, just one in twenty-eight people who died in the US were cremated; today, it’s one in two—half of all funerals. Yet mortician schools still place a heavy emphasis on embalming skills, and more than two thirds of states (thirty-six out of fifty) require funeral establishments to maintain an embalming room (or access to an embalming preparation room); and nearly half of states require a funeral director to be a certified embalmer. Those laws directly contribute to higher prices. In a study published last year, two economists at Kenyon College in Ohio, David E. Harrington and Jaret Treber, calculated that embalming regulations in New York State cost consumers an additional $25.8 million each year.
Although American business traditionally hates regulations, regulating how companies handle and dispose of cadavers makes sense—there are too many public health and public safety considerations involved, let alone consumer rights, for this to be otherwise. “Now, death is seen as an emergency: a dead body has this association of being a biohazard,” explained Caitlin Doughty, who started working in deathcare in 2008 and today owns and runs Undertaking LA. This contrasts sharply with the way a decease was handled 150 years ago, in a pre-industrial era. “Death was a domestic task,” she said. “The women would prepare the body, the men would prepare the casket.”
States began to legislate to control funeral directors around the same time they set professional standards to govern doctors and lawyers, in the mid-nineteenth century. The main aim was to protect the vulnerable—in this case, the bereaved—from charlatans. But many state laws about deathcare now appear outdated or nonsensical. Four states prohibit funeral homes from serving food and beverages entirely, and in New Jersey until very recently, homes could only serve water and peppermints (it is unclear whether such rules arose for reasons of decorum or public hygiene). In five states, funeral directors have exclusive rights to sell caskets, in effect a protectionist measure that blocks cheaper competition—such as Amazon’s “Premium Cardboard Coffin for Adult Funeral,” for just $235.
The outlook seems bleak for customers with few choices and facing high costs. But after sixteen years working in funeral consumer rights advocacy, Slocum doesn’t see it quite this way. “There are two sides to issues like this,” he argues, “and in order to make funerals that are affordable, you need to have both oversight of the industry by the government, but you also need consumers that act with agency rather than being helpless victims.”
It is difficult, though, to think of any other purchase that is quite so unavoidable as paying for a funeral, nor one that demands decision-making at a time when emotional distress is a given. One way to feel empowered in the way that Slocum suggests is to lean, if you can, on your community.
Askia Toure and his two sisters, Sakina and Zahira, were able to turn to the Islamic Society of Greater Houston, Texas, when their mother died of uterine cancer in 2015. The society helped Sakina, who was the only sibling that lived close to her mother when she died, to wash and shroud her mother’s body according to Islamic practice. Two days later, their mother was placed in a plot she had pre-chosen. “That’s how we’ve been raised,” Askia said, “to bury each other with dignity as soon as possible for the least amount of pain or debt inflicted on those who are still here.” When families can’t cover the cost, the community that makes up the membership of the Islamic Society pitches in. Even before Askia’s mother died, the society’s members had contributed to cover the medical costs of her final illness, using a crowdsourcing page.
Crowdfunding for the funerals themselves is now common. Just one site alone, Go Fund Me, boasts that every year it raises $330 million for some 125,000 memorials (a level of contributions that averages out at $2,640, about a third of the typical funeral’s costs). These sites are especially important for families like the Toures because black American households have less wealth than any other racial or ethnic group in the country. When a large, one-off expense like a funeral needs to be paid, the choice facing such families is often brutally simple: ask for help or sell the car.
Even with a community behind you, bargain-hunting is still important. Non-funeral home options are still limited—and, in fact, can often be even more expensive. You can, it is true, order a cardboard casket from Amazon for as little as $235, but then what? Most states have strict laws about where and how you can dispose of a body. Shopping around for professional funeral services is still the better option for most people. “You can find prices that range from $700 to $4,000 for the same basic service,” said Slocum. “The grief will come, but the terror [of financial ruin] doesn’t have to.”
Funerals are hard because they force us to manage a very practical matter that is simultaneously a profoundly emotional one—to make arrangements amid tumultuous feelings. One thing that can help is to have talked to a loved one before she dies about the kind of funeral she’d want. When it was time for the conversation that Jerry Burton wanted about his desire for a cheap send-off, his daughter-in-law, Melody Burton, a marketing and communications manager from Gresham, Oregon, was apprehensive. But it turned out to be a blessing, not a trauma. “You don’t get to talk about things that are so deeply personal like that very often,” she told me. “It was a beautiful time.”
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There are a number of documents that unwed partners can put in place if they want to make sure each is protected if the other person dies.
Maggie Kirchhoff and her partner of 13 years, Matt, have no intention of ever getting married.
They also know it means they won’t get the automatic rights and protections that legally wed spouses get — particularly when it comes to death.
“A lot of spousal rights are inherent with a marriage certificate,” said Kirchhoff, a certified financial planner with Business & Personal Finance in Denver. “For unmarried couples, though, you have to make a concerted effort to cover all your bases.”
The number of unmarried couples who live together reached 18 million in 2016, a 29% jump from 14 million in 2007, according to the Pew Research Center. Among adults age 50 and older, however, the increase was 75%: About 4 million were cohabiting in 2016, up from 2.3 million in 2007.
Although the arrangement has gained broad societal acceptance, according to a separate Pew Research report, such couples still face some key differences from their married counterparts.
For example, filing a federal tax return as a couple is off the table. If your employer happens to extend health insurance to your partner, the amount your company contributes is taxable to you (vs. being tax-free for a spouse).
And, as mentioned, end-of-life considerations need some attention.
About five years into their relationship, Kirchhoff and her partner — who also is a CFP — signed a variety of documents that will dictate what happens if one of them either becomes incapacitated or dies.
In other words, they created an estate plan.
Remember, “estate” simply refers to everything you own — i.e., financial accounts, real estate and your belongings.
Experts say that creating a plan for what happens to your estate — regardless of how meager or massive your assets — is key for unmarried couples who want their commitment to each other protected in the event of death.
“If I’m married and die without an estate plan, it would be a mess, but the general default would be that everything ends up with my spouse,” said Nick Rosenbauer, an estate planning attorney and founder of the Rosenbauer Law Office in West Chester, Ohio.
“But if I’m not married, the default wouldn’t be my partner,” Rosenbauer said. “It might be my kids or my parents or siblings, but my partner who isn’t legally my spouse would be out of the picture.”
If you die without a will — called dying intestate — the courts in your state will decide who gets what. That process is public and often messy if would-be heirs have competing priorities and conflicting notions of what is rightfully theirs.
That said, a will alone won’t necessarily cover all your bases.
If you want to make sure your tax-advantaged retirement accounts — i.e., Roth and traditional individual retirement accounts, 401(k) plans and the like — end up with your partner, make sure that person is the named beneficiary on those accounts.
Even if you have a will that states otherwise, whoever is listed as the beneficiaries on those accounts will get the money. Same goes for insurance policies and annuities.
If no beneficiary is listed, where the money goes depends partly on the retirement plan agreement and on state law. Typically, though, those retirement assets would end up being included in your assets that are subject to probate.
That’s the process of the court validating your will (if there is one) after your death. If there is no will, the court will pass everything on according to state law — which typically means assets will go to the closest living family member who, again, is not going to be your unmarried partner.
Probate is also when creditors can come after your estate for amounts owed and other would-be heirs can contest your will.
Bank and brokerage accounts
If both of your names are on checking, savings or investment accounts, there’s no worry about either of you being able to access them if one of you were to die. The same can’t be said for those with only one person’s name on it.
For any account with only your name on it, contact your bank to find out what form needs to be filled out so the money is left directly to your partner.
“You’d either want to add what’s called a transfer-on-death or payable-on-death designation,” Kirchhoff said.
Again, without those designations, the assets would end up in probate and distributed either in accordance with the will or state laws.
The family house
Regardless of whether you split the mortgage — or whose name is on that loan — the person named on the deed is the owner.
“If the house in one person’s name, it won’t automatically pass to the partner,” Kirchhoff said. “It would become part of the probate estate.”
One option is to make sure both of you are named as joint owners on the deed, “with rights of survivorship.” In that case, generally speaking, you each equally own the house and are entitled to assume full ownership upon the death of the other.
However, there could be other factors to consider before adding a partner’s name to an existing deed, including the cost, tax implications or protection from potential creditors. In other words, you might want to consult with a professional before making the move.
Another option is to leave the house to your partner in your will. Remember, though, any asset passing through the bounds of your will is subject to probate and the potential snags that can come with that.
Consider a trust
Depending on the complexity of your financial situation and the type of assets you own, a trust could be one way to ensure that your partner ends up with what you want them to without any of it being subject to probate.
However, there are other considerations that should factor into whether you create one or not, including whether it would make sense tax-wise, and if the cost (which can be several thousand dollars) is worth it.
It also is probably worth letting any pertinent family members — i.e., adult children, parents or siblings — know the general intentions included in your estate plan.
While you don’t necessarily need to go into dollar amounts, managing expectations can help avoid discord between your partner and any other family members.
“I always recommend that clients discuss these plans with family to avoid hurt feelings or missed expectations,” said Eric Walters, a CFP and managing partner and founder of SilverCrest Wealth Planning in Greenwood Village, Colorado.
Generally speaking, your partner has no legal say in your medical treatment if you end up in a situation when you cannot make decisions yourself.
If you want to give the person that right, you can give them a durable power of attorney over health care. That will let your partner — or whomever you name — make important health-care decisions if you’re unable to.
This is separate from a living will, which states your wishes if you are on life support or suffer from a terminal condition. This helps guide your proxy’s decision-making. And if you have no one named, medical personnel must follow your wishes in that document.
Additionally, you might want to give your partner durable power of attorney for your finances. This would allow them to handle your money, including accessing your accounts as necessary, if you cannot.
And, Kirchhoff said, don’t forget to put contingent decision-makers on those documents.
“If there’s a likelihood that you and your partner are going to be traveling together, and something were to happen to both of you, then who’s in charge?” she said.
Similarly, if you and your partner have dependents, make sure you designate a guardian for them in your will. Otherwise, that decision will be left to the courts.
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Life Is About More Than Your Possessions
Have you considered how to pass on your non-material assets?
When people find out Debby Mycroft helps people write ethical wills, she always gets a predictable response: The Lament.
“They say, ‘Oh, I wish I had a letter from my dad or grandmother or great aunt,’ whoever that person was. I have not come across a single person who has not wanted a letter from that special person,” says Mycroft, founder of Memories Worth Telling.
Unlike legal wills, ethical wills — also known as legacy letters — are not written by lawyers, but by you. They can include life lessons, values, blessings and hopes for the future, apologies to those you fear you may have hurt or gratitude to those you think you have not thanked enough. Traditionally, they were letters written by parents to children, to be read after death.
People who do not have children address them to friends or groups. One of Mycroft’s clients was placed in child protective services when she was quite young because her parents were addicts. “She had a rough upbringing. She intentionally decided not to have children herself. But she wanted to write an ethical will to other foster kids to let them know [they] can survive this,” Mycroft explains.
Why Write an Ethical Will?
Think that your life isn’t important enough to warrant an ethical will? Mycroft disagrees, saying, “You don’t have to be a war hero or a Nobel Peace Prize winner for your story to have value. When people accept awards at the Olympics, they thank the people who had an impact on their life, like Mom or Dad, who was always there to take them to training.”
But there’s an even more important reason you might want to consider a legacy letter. According to Barry K. Baines, author of Ethical Wills: Putting Your Values on Paper, such documents can bring enormous peace of mind.
Baines recalls one dying patient who was bereft because he felt there would be no trace of him when he left. “The first wave would wash away his footprints. That sense of hopelessness and loss was overwhelming,” says Baines. The man rated his suffering at 10 out of 10; after he wrote his ethical will, his suffering reduced to zero.
Don’t wait until you are on your deathbed to do this, Baines warns. As soon as you articulate your values, suddenly you start to live your life more intentionally. Especially if you share it.
“Live your life as you wish to be remembered,” Baines advises. Plus, he adds, legacy letters can help with making amends, addressing regrets and healing relationships.
Ethical Will: Telling Your Own Story
If you don’t feel capable of writing your legacy letter yourself, you can use an online template, take a workshop, read a book about it or work with a professional writer.
But don’t judge your skills harshly. Baines finds that whether people are educated or not or if their letters are simple or complex, they always have a certain elegance because of the truth they contain. “When the families get one, they just glow,” Baines says, adding, “This is a unique gift that only you can give.”
When you write your letter, don’t just say, “My core values are consideration, gratitude, kindness, simplicity,” advises Mycroft. Tell a story about how you’ve lived these values.
In her own legacy letter, Mycroft told her kids about a temp job she had as a teen. She appeared nicely dressed in a skirt, blouse and heels. When she walked in, the employers gave her a funny look and asked, “Why do you think you are here?”
She explained the agency had sent her out for secretarial work. Then her employers handed her a hard hat and steel-toed shoes. “That’s when I look at them quizzically.”
Turns out they were a plastic-bag manufacturer and she was supposed to sort through damaged goods to salvage the ones that could be sold.
“I was so angry that that agency had sent me out on that job. It was hot and humid in Virginia. I was fuming,” Mycroft says. “When I got home, my parents started grilling me. They said, ‘Did you agree on this job?’” And Mycroft confirmed that she did.
They asked what the contract said. Mycroft replied that the contract was pretty clear. Did she sign the contract, her parents wanted to know?
“Yes, but,” she says she told them. “And my parents said, ‘You signed it; you’re committed to it.’”
Mycroft stuck with the job as promised. “That was my first lesson in integrity, perseverance and diligence,” she recalls. She did what she said she would do. As a postscript, she got fantastic jobs from the agency over the rest of the summer. They knew they could count on her.
What Goes Into the Legacy Letter and What Stays Out
Ethical wills are often likened to letters from the heart, so perhaps the best advice is to literally write a love letter.
Love letters don’t recriminate. They don’t judge. They don’t scold. A love letter is there to show how much someone matters to you.
Criticisms and judgments should be left out, advises Mycroft. It’s okay to include regrets and family secrets, even if they hurt. If worded properly, these could bring the family to a place of acceptance and understanding.
She notes, “Sometimes when those things are hidden for so long it causes a lot of resentment — as in] why didn’t they tell me I was adopted? I wish I had known.”
“Definitely avoid manipulation,” Mycroft advises. “Legacy letters are beautiful expressions of love and encouragement, telling other people what is so fantastic about them. I do not think they should be hands reaching up from the grave slapping you or saying, ‘I told you so.’”
Think about how your letter might be received. Baines worked with a woman who had a very hard life. “Every part of her ethical will was blame and guilt-tripping,” he recalls. While some people can turn around a bad experience and use it is an example of what not to do, this woman could not.
“It almost seemed like she was purposely trying to hurt people,” Baines says. But eventually she realized that and gave up, sparing her family the hurt she would cause them.
Get a Second Opinion
Baines believes writers should show their legacy letter to a trusted friend before passing it on, to avoid inadvertent errors. Your reader might say, “You mentioned your two children, but you only write about one and not the other.” That could be extremely hurtful.
Baines also urges people to share the letters while they’re living. It might be painful, but there’s still potentially an opportunity to mend wounds. After you die, there’s no recourse at all.
What About Videos or Selfie Videos?
Some people make videos or selfies of their ethical wills, but keep in mind that technologies can become outmoded.
Mycroft gave both her children the letter and a video of her reading the letter so they not only have her words, but can also hear her voice.
“I’ve heard of people saving voicemails of people who have passed on,” she says. “Can you imagine saving a voicemail and all it says is ‘Susie, are you there? Can you pick up? Hello?’ If you’re willing to save that message just to hear their voice, how much more powerful would it be to hear your voice reading that letter?”
The Time Is Now
The time to write your spiritual legacy is now. Mycroft provides a case in point about her mother, who knew the family lore and lineage.
“I gave her one of these fill-in-the-blank family history books because I wanted to make sure it was preserved,” says Mycroft. “Five years later, when she had passed away and I went to clean out her office, I found the book. It was completely empty.”
Complete Article ↪HERE↩!
It’s not easy nearing the end of your life, but that doesn’t mean you need to be stressed.
Death may be the ultimate stressful moment in our lives. Just thinking about the end is enough to cause your heart to beat faster. And while some levels of depression and anxiety are inevitable, those feelings need not overwhelm the death experience for you or your family. In fact, it’s possible to die well — to experience a sense of wellbeing as you approach the end. You can leave this life with a feeling of closure and a sense of contentment. That’s the difference between completing your life and merely ending it.
But stress disrupts well-being. It distracts you from prioritizing love, family, and dignity. Worry and fear interrupt precious time with family and friends. That’s no one’s idea of a good death. And while it’s easy to think you’ll skip this stressful step and go suddenly from a heart attack or stroke, the reality is the majority of us will need end-of-life care. So, put some thought and preparation into your passing now. Reducing stress will make it easier for you to say goodbye, and for your loved ones to let go. Here are six ways you can make dying the experience you want, rather than the experience you get.
Finalize Your Burial Arrangements
Preparing your burial arrangements lowers stress in several ways. For one, it puts you in control. Eliminate worry by outlining the type of service you want, the manner of internment, and the organ donation process. Burial arrangements also relieve financial stress from your family and friends. Carrying out your last wishes doesn’t have to be a financial burden for your family. So, find the best final expense insurance policy to cover costs. Or get a pre-paid funeral plan that kicks in after you’re gone. You’ll feel less stress knowing everything is taken care of.
Finally, by tending to your funeral arrangements yourself, your loved ones can focus more on spending time with you in your last day. And their grieving will be easier when they’re not weighed down with administrative tasks. Mourners often feel guilty devoting time to such business matters after a loved one dies.
Create a Living Will
If you become incapacitated before death, someone will have to make decisions for you. That’s a heavy responsibility to place on a family member or friend who may only have a rough idea of your wishes. But without a health care power of attorney (or proxy) to speak for you, you may end up being kept on life support longer than you’d prefer, or the opposite. An advanced directive or “living will” is a legal document that lists specific medical treatments you wish to receive and those you don’t. The directive takes the decision-making burden off your family’s shoulder.
To get started, have the end-of-life conversation with one or two people you would want to serve as your proxies. And also talk with your doctor so that everyone is on the same page. Living will forms vary by state. So, download your state’s advanced directive form to get started. If you don’t have the resources to create a living will, other forms of non-legal directives can work as some form of “proof” for your wishes. For example, write a letter to a family member expressing your wishes. Or record audio/video explaining what you want. While these aren’t formally recognized legal documents, they work better than nothing at all.
One thing that makes dying harder is knowing you’re leaving behind unsettled issues, old hurts, and past grudges. When possible, make amends with those you’ve hurt or who’ve hurt you. Now is the time for unburdening yourself and being honest with those you love. While you can leave those hurt feelings behind, your loved ones will carry them after you’re gone. And many will regret they didn’t say something when they had the chance. Knowing this will make leaving this life more stressful for you.
So, don’t put off making amends. Request a private audience with a loved one or wait for the right moment to broach the subject. Be honest and take responsibility for your part in the situation. Refer to the past event/issues that caused the rift, but don’t relive it all over again. And don’t bring up their responsibility; just explain your regrets and apologize. They will reciprocate. Think of this less as a discussion and more as a confession. So, listen more than you talk. The goal of making amends is to replace hurt and anger with forgiveness and love.
Revisit the Past
For those facing imminent death, the bulk of the conversation often focuses on medical needs, medications, or staff visits. While these are immediate needs are necessary, don’t forget the past. Revisiting old memories help us replace the current situation with one of our choosing — at least for a moment. Rather than a form of denial of death, recalling memories is an affirmation of our lives and our effect on others. For friends and family, recounting a past event is a handy way to show how a dying loved one impacted their lives. It’s often difficult for the dying person or loved one to find the right words in these moments. Words of condolence or regret can seem empty. But a pleasant or meaningful story can be a beautiful expression of our gratitude.
Recalling old memories is also a stimulating activity for Alzheimer’s patients. It fosters emotional connections and reduces anxiety. Use family albums, music, videos, or heirlooms to help prompt memories. Encourage family and friends who can’t travel or live too far away to send a short letter or audio recording. And don’t avoid humor. Include funny moments, old jokes, or humorous anecdotes. It may feel awkward at first, but laughter is nature’s way of helping us relieve stress and anxiety while connecting us.
Use Music Therapy
Studies suggest that music therapy has emotional and physical benefits for hospice and palliative care patients. Researchers found that patients who listened to music reported “less pain, anxiety … as well as an increase in feelings of well-being afterward.” Music therapy has a profound effect on people with cognitive and mental decline. The rhythmic nature of music requires little mental processing and helps stimulate memories. Choose music that your loved one enjoys, tunes from their childhood era, or a neutral New Age track. But don’t overstimulate; that can create stress. Take note of the other noises in the room. When mixed with many different sounds, even soothing music at a low volume to create a cacophony of stress.
Ask for Pain Medication When You Need It
Palliative care is about making patients feel as comfortable as possible until the end. And pain management and medication are part of this process. Unlike other vital signs, hospitals and staff can’t measure your pain. You have to help them know when you’re feeling discomfort. Still, some patients forego their pain meds because they want to stay awake to see their friends and family. Others see pain medication as “bad” substances or only for the weak or needy. But these are myths. Pain meds are integral to the palliative care process. And there’s no reason to forego pain medications that’s more important their your comfort. You may think you’re being strong for your family, but having to watch you fight intense discomfort will only increase their stress levels. Ask for pain medication when you need it.
These six tips will increase well-being and reduce stress when you’re nearing the end of your life. But once you’re faced with death, it’s important to know when it’s time to let go. Too often, we hold on too long out of a primal urge to keep going or fear of leaving our loved ones. Death is a natural process we all share. Take comfort in that immutable fact. Let your loved ones know you’re ready to go. They, too, will hold on to you, fearing that letting you go is “giving up.” This creates enormous amounts of stress. When it’s time, reassure them that — while you’re not ready to die — you have accepted it.
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Whether or not we want to plan for it, we all inevitably die. A hard subject for some to grasp, death can bring forth a variety of emotions, conflict, or even chaos, depending on whether or not the deceased had a pre-established estate plan.
To some extent, everyone has assets, but what happens when music is one of those assets—specifically song lyrics and the recording of those songs? We often think about the physical attributes of an estate plan after someone dies—like jewelry, amplifiers, and guitars—but how does a musician plan their legacy that will proceed their death?
Some Minnesota musicians and artists have developed assets over time and have developed their own plans for their music as part of their estate planning process.
Musician Chris Osgood, one-third of the punk-rock trio The Suicide Commandos, has spent time organizing his own musical assets with his fellow bandmates, and for himself, as he continues his own estate-planning process.
“People like myself have a tendency to forget non-physical property is still an asset,” Osgood says over the phone. “When you are doing your death planning, the first thing you think about is, who gets which guitar and objects? The last thing you think about is intellectual property, like your songs, that hopefully will continue.”
Working with musicians, artists, and other talent, attorney Ken Abdo has helped create estate plans that include music assets and legacy planning.
“An artist’s music assets, in the context of estate planning, are really just one of many assets that an artist has,” Abdo says. “The estate planning does not limit itself just to the music aspect. They may have a house, debts, other property, other children. It is part of the whole estate of an individual.”
When you are a musician, prominently known or not, you may have the additional, non-physical assets of copyright, trademark, and even name and likeness potentially included in estate planning. All of these assets together are better known in estate planning as intellectual property.
“When we are talking about music assets, we are really talking about the greater world of intellectual property,” says Abdo. “Copyright is one of those parts. There are two different copyrights involved in the recording of music: there is the underlying composition or songwriting part of it, and then there is the recorded version of that song.”
Protected under United States copyright law, a musician’s compositions and recordings are preserved for 70 years past their death. Musical assets can continue making money well past the death of the musician—an estate plan can determine who benefits from or administers these royalties. Once the copyright period expires, the music enters into the public domain, which helps explain the popularity and exorbitant recordings of songs like “Silent Night,” or other classical hits—because the originator is no longer protected, anyone can write and record the song without the penalty of payment.
Osgood and the other members of The Suicide Commandos have a musical history that spans back to 1975. Planning everything from songwriting credits to publishing rights to trademark, Osgood and his fellow bandmates recently meticulously combed through their catalog and assigned the appropriate credits for their music to each band member.
“When we put out the last record “Time Bomb,” we got a publishing deal from a company called Words and Music down in Nashville,” says Osgood. “It was mandatory when we accepted that contract, to go through each song of our entire catalog and figure out who wrote what and make sure that all parties were content with the fractions. It was easy for us to agree. Songwriting credits are pretty easy to divvy up. Song lyrics hold equal weight to the music.”
A newer technology is helping to preserve intellectual property: holograms. Holographic tours have grown in popularity amongst some musicians, and although the process to create a holographic tour is complicated, it can help protect an artist’s name and likeness, trademark rights, copyright rights, and enable an income source for heirs.
As for reputation and how musicians want people to see their image after death, they can include that in their estate planning under the right of publicity, also known as “personality rights,” which applies to 23 states and controls the commercial use of their identity.
“When you die, that is an asset, where you can bequeath the rights to your name and likeness to another person,” says Abdo. “If you died and were famous and branded, you would want to make sure that your name and likeness fall into the right hands. You would designate that person for trustee, or someone who could shepherd your legacy by making good and correct use with guidance, to keep your legacy going—it survives your death. [For] most people, when you die, you’re dead. But when you are a famous person, you have a name and likeness that has value after your death.”
Although most people do not start their estate planning process until their 50s according to a national survey, Osgood believes being pragmatic is important when dealing with assets- especially when creative assets such as music, are a part of the process.
“It’s still mailbox money and money that can go to someone who is handling my estate,” says Osgood. “I think a lot of people overlook that and don’t think a lot about it. For most of us this side of Steely Dan, it’s not that big of a deal one way or another. It could be, and it often is, if someone’s song gets picked up for a movie or an ad posthumously.”
For anyone that has music as an asset, Osgood believes that musicians should include their work in their planning, even if they do not work full-time in the industry.
“For any creative person, don’t sell yourself short or think that because you are not making a complete living from your art, whatever it happens to be, that it isn’t important or that it wouldn’t be important for future generations,” says Osgood.
Reflecting on artists like Aretha Franklin, who recently made headlines for not having a formal estate plan, Osgood believes that musicians and others who have assets can learn from those public eye experiences.
“It’s a cautionary tale for anyone,” says Osgood. “You are taken aback that somebody of that stature hasn’t given that some thought. Maybe they didn’t because they were afraid of death, or something spooked them. It doesn’t spook me. It’s the last part of life. You have to prepare for it the same way you fill up your car before you take it on a trip.”
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