As a San Diego trust and estate lawyer I help all sorts of people deal with the subject no one wants to talk about—what happens after you grow old and when you die. After your death, when your loved ones are grieving, it can be hard to devote proper time and energy to the details of your funeral and post-mortem affairs. If you plan some of this in advance, your children can be certain to respect your wishes, while having the time they need to grieve.
One important issue to discuss with your children is how you want your body to be handled after death. Do you want to be cremated or buried? Do you want a large headstone, or something simple? If you are cremated, do you want to be in an urn or interred at a cemetery? Would you like a religious service, and if so, what kind? It may seem obvious to you what you would like, but sometimes your children may not know, and may end up fighting at a time they should be coming together to mourn. For a substantial percentage of San Diegans their religious faith plays a factor in what final arrangements they feel are ‘right’ for them.
Many people pre-pay their funeral expenses, so it is important to let your children know if you have. Speaking with other Estate Planning Attorneys in San Diego about what is called "pre-need" planning, I have been amazed. I have been amazed at how many of us have witnessed times where there was a plot paid for, but the children didn’t know, and so paid for another!
What about your obituary? Trust and Estate lawyers in San Diego regularly see cases where relatives are angry because the children got details wrong in their parent’s obituary listing. If you pre-write your own obituary, you can make sure that all of the details are correct, and that it says precisely what you want it to. It can be humorous, serious, or a little of both; if you write it, you control the message.
Planning for final disposition of your remains and putting together your own obituary will lift an enormous burden from your family’s shoulders.
Have you written a will? You’d be surprised by how many fights happen once a parent passes away. If you want your mother’s china to go to one child and your father’s tools to go to another, be sure to put this in writing. Better yet, have your children over to talk about what each one may want when you are gone. It’s awkward, yes, but by finding this out and detailing it in your will, you can save a lot of fighting after the funeral. The inheritance you want to avoid leaving is a legacy of creating conflict between your children.
In California we urge our client’s to go beyond having a simple will. Here, wills are only instructions to the Probate Court on how you wish your assets to be distributed after you die. If an individual here in San Diego dies directly owning real estate or more than $150,000 in total assets a probate is almost always required unless action to side step the probate process is taken. Probate is expensive and slow. For most families the best way to side step probate is by having a living trust. A living trust can also protect your family from needing to establish a conservatorship over you if at some time are not able to make decisions for yourself.
Creating a will and if appropriate a trust will lift an enormous burden from your family, reduce or eliminate the headache of going to court and with a small bit of luck, reduce the chances of your surviving family member fighting with each other.
What about an advance directive for healthcare decisions? Creating this document, which has evolved from living wills, is one of the best uses of an estate planning lawyer. You need to have, in writing, what you would like to happen in the event that you are ill. The more you customize this document the more you take the burden of these decisions off of your family. Do you want to be resuscitated? How much intervention do you want? Do you want to be left on life support? Fights over this can divide a family. It did mine. Knowing in advance what you want, and giving your wishes force by setting them down in a legal document, will make things so much easier for your family. It will make it easier for them when you are otherwise unable to tell them what you want – or don’t want.
What about long term care? Some Estate Planning and Trust Attorneys, like those in our office have additional training to help clients protect their assets from long term care expenses. Attorneys with this extra training can help you put in place structures to make certain you can get the care you may need, at home or elsewhere. It surprises to many families who don't find out until everything is gone that these elder law techniques can at the same time preserve your assets for either your spouse or to help your children be more secure or even live better lives when you are gone.
Part of every estate planning and trust attorney’s job is to make things smoother and easier for our clients, their spouses and children. In order to make this happen, however, you need to be sure that they know what your wishes are for your funeral, for your assets, and for your body in ill health. By writing all of this down ahead of time, you can save everyone grief at a time when they need the space to mourn.
For more information and help in providing for a disabled family member, call the Weissler Law Group at (619) 281-1888 to set a time to speak with an attorney with the answers and advise you need.