A will doesn’t cover all your bases when it comes to end-of-life decisions.

Here’s what else you need

By Sarah O’Brien

  • A will is just one of several legal documents that help your loved ones know your end-of-life wishes.
  • If a person passes away without a will, a court may decide who gets their assets and who would care for any surviving children.
  • However, some assets pass outside of the will, including retirement accounts and life insurance.

As the coronavirus continues sweeping through U.S. communities and the death toll keeps rising, you might be considering your own mortality.

Regardless of the pandemic, experts say it’s important to plan for when you’re not here — that is, give thought to what would happen to your bank accounts, your home and your belongings, as well as, perhaps, your dependents.

That planning should start with a will. And apparently people know they need to take action, based on Google trends showing a jump in searches for information about creating one. 

“In every jurisdiction, if there isn’t a valid will, assets will pass on to your heirs by law, who may or may not be who you would have provided for in a will,” said Samantha Weyrauch Davis, an estate planning attorney and director with the law firm Hall Estill in Tulsa, Oklahoma. “It also lets you name a guardian for children.”

If you pass away with no will — called dying intestate — a state court decides who gets your assets and, if you have children, who will care for them.

This means that if you have an unmarried partner or a favorite charity but no will, your assets may not end up with them. Typically, the courts will pass on assets to your closest blood relatives, even if that wouldn’t have been your first choice.

However, a will is just one piece of an “estate plan.” An estate just refers to what you own — your financial accounts, possessions and any real estate. Putting a plan in place for those assets helps ensure that upon your death, your wishes are carried out and that family squabbles don’t evolve into destroyed relationships.

In other words, it’s partly about making things easier for your loved ones during an already-difficult time.

Here’s what else you should consider if you want to prepare.

What a will can and can’t do

A will is a document that lets you relay who gets what when you pass away. You can get as specific as you want (you leave a certain family heirloom to a particular person) or keep it more general (you want your surviving spouse to get everything).

However, there are some assets that pass outside of the will, including retirement accounts such as 401(k) plans and individual retirement accounts, as well as life insurance policies.

This means the person named as a beneficiary on those accounts will generally receive the money no matter what your will says. (Be aware that 401[k] plans require your current spouse to be the beneficiary unless they legally agree otherwise).

Those [online] forms or software may not be compliant with your local law, so look at the fine print.

Samantha Weyrauch Davis
Director with Hall Estill

Regular bank accounts, too, can have beneficiaries listed on a payable-on-death form, also known as a POD, which your bank can supply.

If no beneficiary is listed on those non-will items or the beneficiary has already passed away, the assets automatically go into probate. That’s the process by which all of your debt is paid off and then the remaining assets are distributed to heirs. The process can last several months to a year or more, depending on state laws and what’s involved in handling your estate.

If you own a home, be sure to find out how it should be titled to ensure it ends up with the person (or people) you want it to, because the laws can vary from state to state. Moreover, there can be other considerations when it comes to how a house is titled, including protection from potential creditors or for tax reasons later when the home is sold.

Another big decision

As part of the will-making process, you’ll need to pick an executor of your will (sometimes called a personal representative).

This can be a big job, experts say. Things such as liquidating accounts, ensuring your assets go to the proper beneficiaries, paying any debts not discharged (i.e., taxes owed to the IRS), and even selling your home could be among the duties undertaken by the executor.

In other words, just because you’ve known your best friend since elementary school doesn’t mean handling the challenge of being an executor is up their alley.

Where to get a will

To prepare a will, you can turn to an estate planning attorney in your local area — to ensure familiarity with state laws — or use an online option. However, be aware that not all of the web-based alternatives will necessarily reflect the specifics of your state’s law.

“There’s risk in doing it that way,” Davis said. “Those forms or software may not be compliant with your local law, so look at the fine print.”

If an online option ends up being appropriate for your situation, you may be able to find a form to download for free. Software will-making options can run about $60 or more, depending on what else is included. To set up an estate plan with an attorney could run several hundred dollars to more than $1,000, depending on the complexity of your situation.

Also, you’ll need to have a witness and/or notary sign it and make the document official, depending on the state where you live. The American College of Trust and Estate Counsel’s website offers a guide to laws and accommodations in every state if in-person meetings are not permitted due to the pandemic.

Other documents

Typically, estate planning also includes preparing a few other legal documents. This includes an advance health-care directive, also known as a living will.

This document outlines your wishes if you become incapacitated due to illness or injury.

Say you are on life support. Instead of a loved one making the agonizing decision whether to end all life-saving measures, your wishes would be specified in a legal record.

It’s also worth assigning powers of attorney. If you become incapacitated, the people to whom you grant powers of attorney will handle your medical and financial affairs if you cannot.

Often, the person who is given this responsibility when it comes to your health care is different from whom you would name to handle your financial affairs.

As with choosing an executor, make sure whoever you hand the financial reins to is trustworthy and smart.

“I tell my clients it’s really important to carefully consider the individuals you name,” Davis said. “You want to make sure they have the ability, skill set, time and desire to make such decisions and do these sorts of things.”

Make a list of critical documents

While it can be hard to imagine your own death, picture your family having to search through drawers for your original will, documents regarding your bank accounts and other assets, and maybe even your Social Security number.

The best way to avoid forcing them to deal with that task on top of mourning is to leave an organized list of information that the will’s executor will need to settle your estate, experts say. Be sure this includes passwords so your online accounts can be accessed.

Consider a trust

If you want your kids to receive money but don’t want to give a young adult — or one prone to poor money management — unfettered access to a sudden windfall, you can consider creating a trust to be the beneficiary of a particular asset.

A trust holds assets on behalf of your beneficiary or beneficiaries, and is a legal entity dictated by the documents creating it. If you go that route, the assets go into the trust instead of directly to your heirs. They can only receive money according to how (or when) you’ve stipulated in the trust documents.

The average cost to set up a trust using an attorney ranges from $1,000 to $1,500 for an individual and $1,200 to $1,500 for a couple, according to LegalZoom.com. Doing it yourself with online software could run several hundreds of dollars or more.

Complete Article HERE!

End-of-life planning during the coronavirus pandemic, in 8 steps

How to make crucial financial and health care decisions for you and your loved ones.

By

Surely you’ve heard it’s a good idea to have a will, just in case anything should happen. Yet we tend to put off completing the paperwork — the documents are confusing and it can be distressing to think about our own mortality. A 2017 study found that only about a third of Americans have completed the necessary end-of-life forms.

The Covid-19 pandemic now has many scrambling to figure out how to get wishes into writing. The coronavirus has reminded us that mortality is unpredictable and so it’s a good time to get our medical and financial matters in order.

The benefits to doing so are many: peace of mind knowing that you will get the medical treatment you want; that your possessions and assets, many or few, will be given to those you choose; that you are protecting your family and friends from having to guess what you would want; and preventing the squabbles that could erupt from family disagreements.

But how to complete the necessary paperwork while in social isolation? In some ways, self-isolation provides the perfect opportunity to get your documents together, but finalizing them can be difficult when a notary and witnesses can’t be in the same room with you.

Signing off, online

On March 20, Gov. Andrew Cuomo made New York one of the more than 20 US states to allow remote online notarization of documents — providing a solution to the challenge of self-isolation. It is a temporary law, and no one knows what it will mean once the pandemic has subsided. New York state also requires two witnesses (laws vary by state) to sign some of these documents, a problem that the temporary notarization law does not explicitly address.

Peter Strauss, a senior partner at Pierro, Connor & Strauss and a founding member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, has instituted a protocol that he and his firm believe will accommodate remote witnesses. Using a video chat program like Zoom, GoToMeeting, or FaceTime, witnesses show their ID and are recorded signing the document by the notary public. Still, Strauss recommends revisiting all documents once your state has safely reopened and completing them in person.

Fern Finkel, a Brooklyn elder care lawyer, said she was concerned that the online notarization process, depending on how the witnesses are involved, could leave documents open to contest. She, too, advised that any documents completed now with online notarization be revisited in the future.

But she and other experts said it is still very important to take steps now to account for medical and financial contingencies should you become ill. “The pandemic is a reason to act, not to delay necessary planning,” Strauss said.

As far as medical contingencies go, “it is really important for doctors to always be guided by the voice and values of the patient,” said Dr. VJ Periyakoil, associate professor of medicine at Stanford and director of the Stanford Palliative Care Education & Training Program. To preserve patients’ voices, Periyakoil and her team have worked with patients to create “The Letter Project,” free and simple forms that help patients communicate their wishes to their family and doctors.

The letters, which are not state-specific and come in eight languages, provide a structured way for each person to think through these important, timely, and emotionally charged issues. They can be printed, filled out, and attached to any state’s forms, also available online. “Our goal is to democratize health care,” Dr. Periyakoil told me, “If people have to choose between groceries or advance directives, groceries are always going to win.”

To get yourself and your loved ones (legally) prepared, here are eight important steps to take.

What you should be doing right now

1. Organize. “The first thing you have to do is understand what you have,” Finkel said. Pull out all your existing documents and organize them in one place. Do you have a health care proxy (designation of a person to make your medical decisions when you can’t), a HIPAA authorization (designation of a person to access your doctor and medical information), a living will (statement of what medical treatments you want in various situations), an intent to return home, a power of attorney, a trust, and/or a last will and testament (statement of how you would like your assets distributed)?

Collect these items in one place in your home — a desk drawer, say, or a file box. (If your documents are somewhere else in a safe deposit box, leave them there — just make sure your family members know where they are.)

Once you’ve done an audit of these documents, you can arrange an online consultation with a knowledgeable attorney to help guide you through what needs to be done. (Justia provides a list of elder law lawyers, for example, or ask your friends for a recommendation.)

To this file, add other essentials that your family members might need should you be incapacitated: checkbooks, insurance policies, safe deposit box keys, Social Security card, passport, birth certificate, and other identification, mortgage, deed or lease for your home, and vehicle titles.

2. Beneficiary designations. During this crisis (or at any time), it is advisable to designate beneficiaries on all of your accounts. Take a look at bank accounts, retirement accounts, and investment accounts to see if they have a beneficiary designation.

“People don’t understand that how accounts are titled is supreme to what’s in a will,” Finkel said. For instance, if your will divides your assets equally among your three children but your oldest daughter is the beneficiary on a bank account, she will receive the accounts’ balance upon your death.

Which means that much of your property designation can actually be done remotely by requesting the appropriate form from your bank or financial adviser and returning it by mail. “If these forms need to be notarized, you can do so remotely,” Finkel said.

3. Health care proxy. If you are in isolation with others you may be able to fill out a health care proxy. The document — which varies by state — often requires two witnesses, like your home health aide and your best friend (neither can be your assigned agent). The proxy allows you to appoint an agent who will make your medical decisions should you become incapacitated. You do not need a lawyer or a notary to complete this form. (AARP provides links to these forms for every state.)

4. HIPAA. Everyone should complete a HIPAA form. “If you can’t get two witnesses [for a health care proxy] because you’re self-isolated,” Finkel says, “you can still do a simple authorization [the HIPAA form] to let your close people be able to speak to doctors.”

At a time when visitors are not allowed in hospitals or nursing homes, the HIPAA — an acronym for the law that protects patient privacy, Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act — will allow your designated loved ones to talk to your doctors about your status. Also, Finkel says, you can name as many designees as you want, just fill out the form with their names and contact information

Once you have completed a health care proxy and/or a HIPAA form, take a photo of them and share it with your designee. “I have HIPAA authorizations for my dad and my husband on my phone,” Finkel told me. They’re at her fingertips should she need them in an emergency. (You can access the HIPAA form here.)

5. Financial institution power of attorney. You can also complete a basic power of attorney form with your bank that designates a person to make financial transactions in those corresponding accounts. You can request the form and, if the institution allows, notarize it remotely. Some banks may have their own procedure, so check with them first.

“Do whatever you can right now to set up a designee for each of the banks you use,” Finkel recommended.

6. Direct deposit and direct pay. Now that you’re at home, it’s the perfect time to put all your bills and monthly payments online. Have your income deposited into one account and your regular bills auto paid from the same account. Heat, electric, gas, cell phone, cable, wireless, water — and your monthly rent or maintenance fee if possible.

“Get everything online, electronically paid, so that all of these things are seamless,” Finkel told me. Should you have to be hospitalized (hospital stays for severe cases of Covid-19 last an average of 10-13 days, with some lasting much longer), when you come home all of your services will be in place.

7. Passwords. While you’re setting up your bills for auto pay, organize all your online passwords. Once you’ve recorded the username and password for all of your utilities, do the same for your online accounts like email, social media, entertainment services, and other online platforms. Share this document with your most trusted person so that they’ll have it in your absence.

8. Have the conversation. This is also the time to talk to your loved ones about your health care and financial decisions. This difficult time might actually make the conversation easier for you and your family. “People around me are dying,” Finkel said. “We’re in a pandemic, and everyone is starting to see their own mortality. Let your loved ones know your wishes.” Tell the people you love where your documents are, and give your health care proxy, power of attorney, and HIPAA to your trusted agents named within them.

And there is one more important thing: “We can take this time to talk to our loved ones,” Periyakoil told me. “If there is one thing even more important than advanced directives, it’s really telling our friends and family how much we love them.”

Complete Article HERE!

Planning For The End Of A Life

Talking about death makes many of us uncomfortable, so we don’t plan for it. NPR’s Life Kit offers tips for starting an advanced directive to prepare for a good death.

By Kavitha Cardoza 

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Thinking about death makes most people uncomfortable, which means many of us end up not planning. But Betsy Simmons Hannibal, a legal editor, says it’s like wearing a seatbelt.

BETSY SIMMONS HANNIBAL: We all wear our seatbelts even though we don’t expect to get in an accident on the way to the store. It’s just, like, something that we know is possible.

MARTIN: So buckle up. NPR’s Life Kit looked into preparing for the end, and reporter Kavitha Cardoza is going to walk us through a simple document called an advance directive.

KAVITHA CARDOZA, BYLINE: You don’t need to have a medical background or a lawyer to fill out an advance directive. You don’t even need a lot of time. And I promise it’s not too morbid. You can easily find an advance directive form online. There are different versions, but basically, it has two sections. The first is the most important – the medical power of attorney. Choose a person who can legally make health care decisions for you if you can’t.

PALLAVI KUMAR: Think about the person in your life who understands you, your goals, your values, your priorities and then is able to set aside their own wishes for you and to be a voice for you.

CARDOZA: That’s Dr. Pallavi Kumar, a medical oncologist and palliative care physician at the University of Pennsylvania. She says your medical proxy should be someone you trust who can handle stress because your loved ones will disagree on what to do, and it can be emotional. So you want to name someone who will carry out your wishes. Kumar says research shows when a caregiver sees a loved one die in the hospital under circumstances they believe that person never would have wanted, they’re in emotional pain for a long time.

KUMAR: And at six months and a year after death, these bereaved caregivers are still suffering from pretty severe depression and anxiety. There’s even some data to show that the survival for those caregivers is shortened.

CARDOZA: So think of an advance directive as a gift you’re giving your loved ones. The second section of the advanced directive document is called a living will. This part walks you through the general approach of how you want to die and what kind of care you want. Do you want to be resuscitated? Are you OK being hooked up to a ventilator? How do you feel about a feeding tube? Dr. Jessica Zitter is an ICU and palliative care physician in California. She says there’s no right or wrong decision. It’s personal.

JESSICA ZITTER: Someone once told me her father was – she says, he’s an old, crusty Italian man, and he said if someone else has to wipe my behind, I do not want to live. But there’s many, many others of us – if I was quadriplegic and still have an intellectual and emotional relationship with people, I don’t think I’d want to die.

CARDOZA: Even among patients who are very, very sick with cancer, less than half have had conversations about how they want to die. So it’s critical to share your wishes with your medical proxy and your loved ones as well as your doctor. Share a copy of the form with them.

Dr. Pallavi Kumar says the end of life is about more than just the medical aspect. When she knows a person’s priorities, that helps inform her treatment plan. For some patients, it might mean spending time at home with family. For others, it means trying every treatment possible for as long as possible.

KUMAR: They would say, if you’re telling me that a chemotherapy could give me another month, I want that month because that’s another month I have with my 6-year-old.

CARDOZA: While no one can predict when they’ll die, an advance directive can help you plan for how. It’s not a guarantee but a safety net for having what Doctor Zitter thinks of as a good death.

ZITTER: In order to figure out what a good death is, you have to figure out what a good life is and what living well means to you. That’s the only way to know how to die well because actually, they’re kind of reflections of each other.

Complete Article HERE!

Here’s how unpaid debt is handled when a person dies

By Sarah O’Brien

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.

Complete Article HERE!

Here’s what happens to your partner if you’re not married and you die

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.

By Sarah O’Brien

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.

The basics

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.

Retirement accounts

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.

Communication

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.

Other considerations

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.

Complete Article HERE!

The Ethical Will

Life Is About More Than Your Possessions

By Deborah Quilter

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.”

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6 Ways to Reduce Stress at the End of Your Life

It’s not easy nearing the end of your life, but that doesn’t mean you need to be stressed.

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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.

Make Amends

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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