This blog article is Part 5 in a series of posts on staying prepared if your spouse dies and you are the one left behind. It is natural to focus on traditional estate planning to prepare yourself for the legalities of death, and Wills, Trusts, powers of attorney, etc., achieve that. But when you are left behind, you do not always have the answers during such a difficult time.

This is where getting organized with documents such as a Family Facts Sheet, family binder, a household manual, and even a detailed form that has all of your marital financial affairs up to date and easily accessible can help. Each of these non-legal but timely documents serves as a reference guide for things like legal names and addresses, driver’s license information, bank account records, detailed home maintenance instructions, etc.

But what more can we do? How else can we prepare ourselves? Here are some additional steps to take now:

Surround yourself with a team of professionals
If you are reading this, you understand the value of having an estate planning attorney in your corner. Trust me when I say that there is no substitute for the knowledge and guidance these people can provide you AND your spouse. But do not stop there. Your options are unlimited when it comes to creating a dynamic team to confidently walk you through any potential life hurdle.

1. Financial advisors
2. CPAs
3. Bookkeepers
4. Insurance agents
5. Human resource professionals, if you are still employed
6. Business attorneys

Directive to Physicians and Do Not Resuscitate (DNR)

When it comes to making your advanced healthcare decisions known, two important documents to have are a Directive to Physicians and a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR). Many people get confused about the difference, so here is a good example:

With a Directive to Physicians, If I have a heart attack, I want you to call 911, and I want them to do CPR. If, after doing CPR, the doctors say that they can put me on a ventilator, but there is no hope of recovery, I do not want to be put on life support. If the doctors say that they can put me on a ventilator, and I may recover, I want to be put on life support in that case.

Conversely, a DNR would tell the paramedics not even to perform CPR in the first place.

In each instance, the document carefully details out my wishes, so there should not be any questions moving forward regarding my care. With that said, each option should be carefully weighed and discussed with your family beforehand.

I always encourage my clients to have the hard conversation with their family about the situations they would want life support and which situations they would not. This allows individuals the opportunity to let personal decisions be known while also giving family members the chance to come to terms with choices that are different from their own. The harder it is to have the conversation, the more important it probably is to have it.

Set up a will or living trust (or, ideally — BOTH)
I am going to spend a little extra time on this item. Talking about our mortality is never the first thing on our to-do list. If anything, it is right there with paying taxes and cleaning out our mother-in-law’s shed. On top of that, estate planning and the documents that go with it (wills and trusts being two of them) seem complicated and overwhelming, which means we tend to neglect the conversation altogether. At Leigh Hilton PLLC, our goal is to protect and preserve your most valuable assets while also educating you and your family every step of the way so that you feel empowered and can confidently embrace your estate planning strategy.

Wills and Trusts are both designed to let you decide exactly how you want your stuff divided and transferred to your chosen heirs. In some cases, they can be used together, but in other situations, it may be better to use one over the other.

Here is a great blog post we wrote on this very topic!

Update/Choose beneficiaries
Beneficiaries need to be added or updated on all annuities, life insurance policies, retirement plans, wills, and trusts so that they match across the board and are consistent with your wishes. Furthermore, know the difference between primary and contingent beneficiaries. Spouses are normally the primary beneficiary, with children being contingent or secondary.

Manage “Black Sheep” carefully
The term “Black Sheep” seems so disrespectful, but it is something you have to account for in your estate planning strategy. That is because every family has at least one person who likely would not handle their inheritance the way they should when faced with a sudden windfall of money. It is also important to consider their circumstances (age, financial situation, marital status, if they use drugs or drink alcohol excessively, etc.).

Consider Incentive Trusts
An Incentive Trust allows you to place provisions into your trust documents that reward certain behaviors by specifying criteria that must be met for disbursement of funds. For example, you could reward a grandchild for completing a college education. You could create markers for those who stay off of drugs or out of jail. I have drafted Incentive Trusts that match a beneficiary’s salary simply for being gainfully employed.

Review your estate planning documents regularly
Once you create an estate plan, it is easy to just file it away in a drawer and assume you and your loved ones are covered for every possible future situation. The thing is, though, that is not always possible. Life throws you curveballs. Situations change — whether intended or not. It is wise to constantly review that plan every three years to ensure that it is current and still expresses your wishes.

Please check back with us as we continue this important conversation.

Call Leigh Hilton PLLC today!!

No one wants to think about dying. They certainly do not want to think about their spouse passing. But it is better to discuss these things together ahead of time and be prepared for when that day comes. Dealing with uncertainty is the last thing you want to worry about when trying to survive after the loss of a spouse.

Having a competent estate planner in your corner will help you and your family navigate these often overwhelming waters. That is our job, and we like to think we do it better than anyone else. Please call Leigh Hilton PLLC so that we can help ensure you and your family are taken care of in the best way possible.

Leigh Hilton PLLC wants to be your first call every time for any estate planning need. We look forward to serving you.

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