Not a pleasant thought, is it? Let me in on a secret: if you haven’t planned for the possibility of your death, you will add to your family’s pain in container loads. In the wake of the deaths of nine firefighters here in
The problem? Most of the firefighters did not have a will, so the challenge was to figure out how to distribute the funds. The funds from the public were to follow the decisions of the state Workers Compensation Board. As of today, two of those decisions are being appealed, and one has yet to be decided. In one case, the firefighter was not married, but had been living with a woman and her son. She depended to a large extent on his income and his presence in the household. Technically, she was not entitled to a dime. A will would have eliminated this dilemna. No workers comp commissioner, nor any judge, relishes the job of making decisions on the allocation of benefits without any guidance from the deceased.
Ask people you trust, such as your attorney, CPA and/or financial advisor, for references to an estate attorney to draft a will and health care directives for you and your spouse. The first and most important decision is who would become guardian of any children in the event of the death of both you and your spouse. If you are in a group practice, then you need to call upon your practice’s attorney to put together a shareholder agreement and any related agreements to cover death, disability or retirement of a physician owner. (More on this – see my feature story here from earlier this year). You spouse may not legally be allowed to be an owner of the practice, so settling upon the terms of appraising the value of a buyout in the event of a death will protect the owners, the dependents of the physician who leaves us, and avoids expensive litigation that will leave everyone poorer and everyone angry.
When my wife and I first had a will done, we “bought” one through a fundraising action for our daughter’s school. A local attorney, who we knew pretty well, offered a simple will for the silent auction. We made sure that we bid on it and got the wining bid. Cost? $40 (the money was going to the school).
Your will is likely to cost considerably more, but it is well worth every dime. I have seen some disasters when people I knew had tried to set up trusts without the advice of an attorney and left a very costly mess that involved several individuals plus two charities that were to be beneficiaries of significant sums of money. It took several years to get to settle the matter.
As the year winds down and you are doing year end financial planning, start the process to develop a will to be completed by January of the new year. An important step, and one with some degree of urgency.