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Where There’s a Will There’s a Way

Seven out of ten people don’t have a will, which means state law governs how their estate is administered. You don’t want strangers making the decisions how your assets will be distributed in probate, nor 50% of the estate going to taxes rather than beneficiaries! Consult an estate planning attorney to see if a Trust would be more appropriate to avoid the expense and public forum of probate.

The first step is to write up the details of what is to be done if you are incapacitated. Consider that by accident or illness, you may not be able to make your own medical decisions. Develop your personal advance medical care directive of the kind of treatment you wish to respect your dignity and right to life, so someone else doesn’t decide to deny you what you want and need to live. NOTE: If you have a child who has turned 18 and is single, have them legally designate you or another trusted adult to make medical care decisions if they are unable to make them, or it will be left up to the hospital staff and you will not be able to make the decisions. Keep the directive with your other important papers.

The next step is to decide what you want done upon your death. Here are some things to consider.

  • Do you want tissue or organs to be donated? Eighteen people die a day waiting for transplants. One donor can help as many as 50 people, and save as many as 8 lives. You can let your loved ones know and they can notify the hospital staff when the time is right.
  • Write out your funeral and burial wishes. What friends, business colleagues and organizations do you want notified?  Do you want to set up an account to help family with travel and lodging to attend?
  • What readings do you want at your memorial service/Church service? What songs? Do you have a charity you would like people to donate to in lieu of flowers?
  • Preplan and pay for your final arrangements.
  • Record for your spouse all your financial accounts, insurance policies, location of important papers, your online passwords and directions on how to set up an email auto response. They may know them now, but grief is a significant stress that can hamper memory recall. Here is a Survivor Guide to help organize the pertinent information.
  • What do you want done with your social media accounts?

Make sure you only have one — a will, that is

Decide in advance how your assets should be divided. Each spouse needs to have a separate will. Decide who will inherit your property, what people, trusts, charities. Designate contingent beneficiaries too, should they precede you in death. Designate a guardian for dependents if needed.

Choose a trusted executor to handle your estate and carry out the terms of your will.

After your lawyer has written your medical directives and will, communicate your wishes. Have a meeting with your spouse and executor to go over everything to make sure it is clear. Give the executor a copy of the will and let them know where the original is kept. You may want a meeting with your financial advisor and your spouse too. Have that conversation with your spouse to not make any significant changes the first year while grieving (e.g. selling your home and moving). Then have a family meeting to share the details of what you want done so your children can support the surviving spouse and each other. It will make it easier on them to know what you desire and to have had that conversation with you while you are living.

If you created a will in one state and moved, it may not be valid under the new state’s regulations. Consult an attorney to ensure paperwork is in order and legally binding where you live. Regulations are constantly changing too, so it is a good idea to review the plan every five years, especially with changes in these circumstances:

Family Status: a birth, disability, marriage, divorce or death should prompt you to re-examine how you wish your estate assets to be divided. You may have a child who developed an addiction, and a sudden influx of cash could be detrimental for them.

Financial Situation: Financial success or reversal may call for changes. The purchase or sale of property may also necessitate an update of your will. If you own property in two different states, your will must conform to the laws of both states.

Change in Executor: If they are unable to serve, or you wish to designate a new executor, a codicil may be sufficient for this purpose. It is also less costly than writing a new will

It will be a legacy of love to have your final arrangements well planned, recorded, and communicated. It will be a source of comfort and consolation for your loved ones to know they are carrying out your wishes.


Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; your rod and your staff comfort me. Psalms 23:4

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