What To Do When Someone Dies

Posted by on Mar 16, 2016 in Estate Planning | 0 comments

What To Do When Someone Dies

Whether you know it is coming and are able to be present when your loved one passes, or whether you get a phone call in the middle of the night, the news of a loved one’s death leaves us feeling empty and everything seems to stop.  The last thing on your mind is a “to-do” list but in actuality there are many things that must be done when someone passes.

Below is a list compiled to help you through this time.  The more planning you can do, the easier this process will be. At the end of the day, you want to keep yourself and your loved ones in a place where they can focus on the one who has passed and take the time needed to grieve.

Right Away…

1.    Get a Legal Pronunciation of Death
•    If your loved one is in the hospital or in hospice the nurse will do this.
•    If your loved one passes at home or another location, you must call 911 and have the paramedics come. This is the time where you will want to show the Living Will and “do not resuscitate” (DNR) so they can make this pronunciation on the spot. If you do not have a DNR designation on a living will the emergency team will most likely still attempt resuscitation and will have to take the body to the hospital in order for a Doctor to make this determination.

2.    Make Arrangements for the Body to be Transported
•    If no autopsy is needed, you will want to call the mortuary or crematorium.
•    A licensed funeral director can help you either administer the plan that was set in place by the person prior to their passing, or help you transport the body, select a casket/urn/grave marker, arrange for burial, prepare an obituary, help contact the employer, insurance company and attorney, and offer grief support.

3.    Notify the Individual’s Doctor or County Coroner

4.    Notify Family and Friends
•    This may be a very demanding job, it is suggested to split up this task and make personal phone calls. Finding out your best childhood girlfriend passed away suddenly on social media is not the way anyone wants to receive this information and certainly not the way the one who passed would want people to hear about their passing.

5.    Find Someone to Care for Children, Dependent’s or Pets
•    This cannot wait. If there is a will or trust, there should be instructions related to the individual’s wishes. If there is not, work with family to ensure any children, pets or people that were being cared for continue to receive care until something more permanent can be arranged.

6.    Contact the Individual’s Employer
•    If the person was working, call the employer right away and inquire about any benefits or wage due (this may include sick time, vacation, disability income, etc). Again, if there is an estate plan (will or trust) any life insurance policies and benefits will already be accounted for, if not, you must specifically ask about life insurance policies or other benefits.

Within a Few Days…

7.    Arrange for burial or cremation.
•    If the person is religious this will include a service and you will want to contact the organization they were a member of. If there is an estate plan, the individual may have already made arrangements for their death through a pre-paid burial plan. If not, this money will have to be paid up front then reimbursed out of the estate.
•    If the person was a member of a military branch or other group, contact that group as well.

8.    Prepare an Obituary
•    This must be thoughtfully written to not only honor the person who passed but to inform others not directly called of the passing.

9.    Ask a Friend or Relative to Care for the Person’s Home
•    It will take time for things to be organized, in the meantime someone will want to be going over to the home, taking in mail, watering plants and ensuring nothing is happening to the property.
•    This is a large job and must be given to someone who can be trusted not to take items out of the home that would be a part of the estate and must be accounted for.

Within A Week or Two …

10.    Obtain a Death Certificate
•    You will need the original and several copies for closing the estate.

11.    You May Need to File For Probate
•    Unless there is an estate plan that automatically disburses all of the individual’s assets upon death, you will need to take the will to the county and open a probate in order to administer the estate.  If there is no will or trust, you will need to open an probate through intestacy ( someone who dies without a will).

12.    Call a Probate Lawyer
•    Unless everything was handled in advance, you will want this professional to help walk you through the process of handing the estate.

A lot must be completed when a loved one passes.  The more they planned and prepared prior to death will directly relate to how seamless or stressful this process is upon death. The name of the game is to have an estate plan drawn up, to inform family members of this plan, to keep all of the necessary documentation all in one place and to not wait.  None of us know when our time will be up, therefore it is never too early to create a plan.

If you have any questions or need assistance with a probate or an estate plan, please contact Elizabeth Westby with Westby Law, PLLC., or 602.686.6375, for your complimentary consultation.

Why would someone need an estate plan?

Posted by on Feb 25, 2016 in Estate Planning | 0 comments

Why would someone need an estate plan?

One thing in life is certain, death comes to us all. While none of us like to think about dying, the fact is that improper or no planning leads to family disputes, assets going into the wrong hands, long court litigations, large amounts of dollars in federal tax and not to mention all those fees spent on probate. Having an estate plan is the best way to ensure your wishes are adhered to, and the people in your life who you love are not only taken care of, but don’t end up turning on each other.

Is money really the main concern?

Absolutely not. Estate Planning is about preparing for your life and leaving your legacy. If you were in an accident and incapacitated, wouldn’t you feel better knowing you already elected a person to handle your medical decisions and that person knows your wishes? The same goes for your financial decisions. If you don’t choose, then the state will choose for you.

We as consumers often hear about probate, but what does that mean?

Probate is the court process of administering a deceased person’s estate. Because it is a court process, it is a matter of public record. Public record means anyone who wishes to look, has access to some of the most private information. For example, this is how creditors find the information they need to collect from estates. When you hear about families being left with nothing but debt – that is what they mean. Avoiding probate is the same as protecting your beneficiaries.

What happens if you don’t have a will?

If your estate is unprotected upon death, then the state in which you die determines how your estate is to be administered. It has to go somewhere right? The process is called “intestate succession.” And let me assure you, while the laws are written to protect, often times things happen under the state laws that we would never in a million years want to happen.

When should someone consider having an estate plan drafted?

There are 9 life events that trigger either the drafting of a plan or the reviewing of an existing plan.

1.    Marriage
2.    Re-Marriage
3.    Divorce
4.    The Birth of a Child
5.    The Death of a Beneficiary
6.    Illness or disability
7.    A substantial increase in assets or income
8.    Moving to another state
9.    Changes in state law

Of course creating or updating an estate plan is not usually the first thing on someone’s mind during a life event, so in order to cover your bases you should have your plan reviewed every few years.  If you ask your attorney who drafted your plan, they will usually review your plan at no charge. Making it very important to choose an attorney who you want a continuing relationship with.

Estate Planning Is Only Useful When You Have A Plan!

Posted by on Jan 21, 2016 in Estate Planning | 0 comments

Estate Planning Is Only Useful When You Have A Plan!

Most people tend to think that estate planning is for the wealthy or for the elderly. This is a serious falsehood. No matter your stage in life or the amount of your accumulated wealth, estate planning is an essential tool. Because state law does not mandate estate plans like they do insurance in some instances, people forget to utilize this helpful set of documents. When something is not forefront in our minds, we delay acting. Estate planning is only useful when you have it in place and no one knows when the time will come that it is needed. What if you had a horrible accident and became incapacitated tomorrow? Have you appointed a health care and financial power of attorney who you
trust and who knows your wishes? Would you be comfortable with the state deciding who will have this privilege? If the answer is no to both of those questions then you should consider getting a plan in place now before something happens. Below are some additional guidelines concerning basic estate planning.

A Proper Estate Plan Is Crucial Regardless of Net Worth:
This is true for everyone but especially for those folks who are responsible for a lot of other people in their lives. Think of it this way, the less you have, the more important every penny is. Mistakes are more tolerable for those with money. You don’t want to leave your loved ones with massive amounts of debt and no plan to be able to deal with them. Even if debt is all you have, you still need a plan and there are ways to secure a plan for debt. Get ahead of it so you are in control of the debt instead of the debt controlling you.

Talk With Your Family And Friends About Your Wishes:
When a person dies and they have not discussed their plans with their beneficiaries or family, almost always this creates serious conflict. When people are fighting over the terms of your estate, it can delay beneficiaries from receiving inheritances for months or even years. Instead, include your family in the decision process by having candid conversations. This allows them to feel secure about the future and also allows for family members to accept decisions that may not be what they wanted or had in mind. Discussing your plan prevents conflict and allows the family to heal and properly mourning the loss. Additionally, it allows you to rationalize out loud why you are doing what you are doing. Time is not on your side with this one because it is tied to so many emotions. Get your estate plan in place then start talking now so everyone is prepared.

Start With The Basics:
At a minimum you should have life insurance, a will, living will, power of attorneys (financial and healthcare) and designate your bank accounts as payable on death. No one ever said that an estate plan has to be complicated, it doesn’t! The nice part about having a plan is it is capable of being changed over time. Basically, you need life insurance to help replace income in the event of your death; a will to devise your
property; a living will to explain to medical personnel how much you want done in efforts to save your life; power of attorneys so your financial and health care decisions can be made by someone of your choosing in the event you cannot make those decisions for yourself; and designate your bank accounts as payable on death to your beneficiaries so your family doesn’t spend money and time probating the accounts.

By starting with the basics, you have already saved your estate time, heartache and money. Because we never know what will happen in our lifetimes, it is so important to get a basic plan in place immediately. This holds your place, so to speak, so you can get that more detailed plan later on. It is just the “later on” that you cannot count on.

Have A Professional Help You:
While there are online services available to build simple wills and trusts, I recommend utilizing professionals to guide you and educate you in this area. It is much more costly to correct a mistake in a poorly written will or trust than just having one drafted right the first time. Additionally, if the documents aren’t created properly, after death, suits may be brought claiming your documents are not binding which places you in a precarious position – as if you never had any estate planning instruments in the first place! So something in place is not better than nothing. It is only better if they are correctly drafted and executed.

Creating an estate plan is not something you can do blindfolded. It is best to talk with an attorney and have a strategic estate plan written up that is personalized to your needs. Naturally, these things take time. That is why waiting is not the best decision because you
want these to be in place for when you need them.

Divorcing? Ask Yourself, Is the Marital Home Really A Prize?

Posted by on Dec 14, 2015 in Divorce | 0 comments

Divorcing? Ask Yourself, Is the Marital Home Really A Prize?

Home is where the heart is . . . at least until it isn’t! In the U.S., divorcing couples fight hard over the marital home. As if being awarded the home in the divorce means you have won. This is certainly not the case in most instances and depending on several factors, you may not want the home.

For many couples, the marital home is their largest single asset. But honestly, the home can be a huge burden and you have to make a financial decision when looking at the home and try your hardest not to think emotionally.

When you get a divorce, everything changes. If you can put your mind in a place where you can accept that things are about to change drastically, the process will not only be easier to stomach, but you will make decisions that will benefit you in the long run.

In short, you must train yourself to look at this house as a piece of property and nothing more. Do not see that wall you took an entire weekend to paint yourself as part of your being, but see it as a wall that you painted once. Rest assured there will be a new wall for you to paint in a different color in your future.

Now that you are mentally prepared to look at this house through a financial purview not an emotional one, here are the items you need to consider when deciding if the house is financially in your best interest to fight for:

1.    Can you afford the real cost of owning that house now and in the future?

You must consider the dollar amount it will cost to run a household alone. Do not calculate in child support or spousal maintenance – after all, many times even if one party is awarded this type of support, collecting it is not certain. So plan for yourself.

Look at the mortgage; can you take this over on your own? Now add property taxes, insurance, repairs/maintenance, furnishings, and of course the never ending living expenses (gas, water, electric, food).

If your answer is “I don’t know” or “that might be really tight” then you  need  to consider downsizing. Start small and build. I know it isn’t something you want but many times during a legal process what you want is the opposite of what you must do. The good news is it is temporary. Things will not always be this way and it will be OK, as long as you plan properly. It is the people who fight without understanding the full picture and having a plan who end up losing after the divorce.

2.    Can you refinance the mortgage on your own?

You can be guaranteed that whichever spouse  leaves  the  home, they  will want to take their name off the mortgage. This presents a whole new set of challenges for the person who stays in the home. You will have to qualify by yourself with your income alone to refinance. While you can attribute spousal support and child support towards qualifying for a loan, lenders know that often times these payments are not always made reliably so the only time the lender will consider these types of “support” is when there is a good track record of those payments being made. When you are at the onset of a divorce there is no such history so you want to make sure your income is enough to refinance. If not, then again you will need to consider downsizing.

3.    Can you sell the house when you want to?

You must check the market conditions for the value of the home and the likelihood of sale. You don’t want the house to sit on the market for half a year and go into debt while waiting for a sale. If you think it might be hard to sell the house then consider letting the other spouse keep the residence. Then you can get your value out of the home up front and let him or her deal with the headache of trying to get the value out of the property through a sale.

Or you may want to  agree to sell it while the divorce process is underway, that way both parties are still on the hook, making payments easier, then splitting the profit. This is a case‐by-­case item and you will want to speak candidly with your divorce lawyer about.

4.    Can you handle the tax burden if you do sell the house?

If you sell your house for more than you paid for it, then you are looking at capital gain tax. In 2013, the federal max went from 15% to  23.5%.  Now  there  is  talk of raising the percentage to an astounding 28%! And that is only the federal – you will be paying the state capital gains tax as well. Don’t forget to  calculate in the 6% realtor fees and other closing costs associated.

That doesn’t leave a lot of money in your pocket. If you are closing on your own after a divorce, you could be losing thousands, because in the divorce you would have been credited your portion of the full market value minus the mortgage. This is where the numbers get real and are imperative to consider.

5.    Do you really want that house?

Many times when we fight in a divorce, we are fighting because we are angry and want a leg up on the soon- to-be-ex. But think about this carefully, do you really want to go home at the end of the divorce to the home you shared with your ex? Do you want that in your life? Will staying in the home deter you from moving forward in your life?  Use that  rational mind to protect  your  emotional  side. Speak  with folks who have been through a divorce, many times they will tell you that it wasn’t until after the decree was entered into that reality set in.

Many things need to be considered during the divorce process and whether or not you want to fight for the marital home. You must think financially not emotionally. Go through  the details, do your research, educate yourself, invest in hiring professionals at least for those limited issues you really could use the advice on (tax advisor, realtor, financial advisor, attorney).

In the long run it will be worth it, I can promise you that. Remind yourself that this is a phase in life, you can handle this and you will come out stronger as long as you do yourself the favor and plan accordingly.

Lastly, be cautious of any deal that seems too good to be true. When the other side offers you something, like the marital home, you  must consider every detail and every implication it may have.