- Your Voice
Your children over the age of 18 may or may not be on their own. It doesn’t matter because once they are over eighteen, their records, medical and educational, are protected. I highly recommend you have a medical power of attorney along with a living will to assist you with a hospital should important decisions need to be made. Although it’s not pleasant to think about, there can be difficulties that are unpredictable. One highly publicized example is the Terri Schiavo case. For those of you too young to know, Terri Schiavo was a young woman who was in a vegetative state and on life support for many years. After attempting rehabilitation for eight years, her husband said she would not want to be kept alive in a vegetative state and requested discontinuance of life support. Her parents stepped in and said that she would want to be kept on life support and obtained an injunction from the court to prevent withdrawal of life support. Litigation ensued involving very complicated ethical, moral and legal issues. The battle continued for many years.
Many of us are small business owners, including farms and ranches. When you have a farm or ranch or own your own business, there is no guarantee your children will want to run the ranch, farm or business like you are doing. You may know that well in advance. A common scenario which I have frequently dealt with is when a large amount of land, or a family owned business, has been passed on to several children and no one wants to run the farm, ranch or family business. Sometimes one child is willing to take over, but the others want their shares in cash.
Two days ago my mother passed away peacefully in a hospice facility. She had been evaluated by the hospice nurse for needs and qualification on Friday afternoon and was on her way to the hospice facility that evening. I stayed with my dad who was devastated. My mom had been in extreme pain as a result of a broken hip and surgery which she came through like a champ. What I did not know, and which no one explained to me, were all the issues to consider in a situation like my mother’s. All I was told is it does not look good. What does that mean in my mother’s context? Severe hip damage which will not heal? Or will not be capable of weight bearing? Effect on her dementia due to anesthesia or trauma? It turns out you should avoid hospital emergency rooms when you have an dementia patient; it causes accelerated progress of the disease. But my mom fell, broke her hip (and hit her head we learned three days later) on a Sunday morning. Her primary care physician was on vacation. EMT took her to a secondary emergency facility so surgery would not occur until thirty hours later on Monday afternoon. I had begun investigating answers to questions I had which had remained unanswered for two weeks following her surgery, such as how the surgery would, in fact, affect her. Hospital jargon is not always easy to decipher. For example, although I may know what a word means in every day jargon, it may have a different meaning in “hos-speak.” Thinking I understood everything was a mistake, fortunately a minor mistake in the greater scheme of things, but still a mistake. The Living Will my mother had prepared was very specific: no food, no IV fluids, only to be made comfortable (no machines or artificial life support) which hospices are experts at. The morphine was a blessing. Four days after she was admitted, she passed away “in her sleep.” I have my regrets which I hear is common, but we did what we promised we would do for her.
Are you caring for your parents? Do you want your children to be caring for you? Do your children want to care for you? Are your elderly relatives living with you, or do you expect to be living with any of your relatives when you age?
It’s about time I share something with you. I am one of “those people” who did not prepare for the future. We all “know” our parents will die before us and we will die before our children. We may, or may not, have a Will prepared that takes care of everything. I did. What I never actually planned for was the care my parents would need in their elder years. They had always been active and healthy and I knew they would die someday. I accepted that. Maybe you have too, but only now am I learning how you need to do more.
In my opinion, the best time to prepare your estate documents is now. It is not unusual to think preparing estate documents can wait, but you are doing yourself and your estate a disservice.
The last thing anyone wants is to pay taxes. We have all just gone through another, sometimes grueling preparation of our 2012 Federal and State Tax Returns, which is what brought this subject to mind.
Boilerplate wills and trust documents that can be purchased online, or in stores are not geared toward anyone’s specific circumstances. You are not a boilerplate person and your circumstances are not boilerplate. The boilerplate forms rarely take into consideration the variances in your life, which can include spouses and ex-spouses, or significant others, children, personal property, real property, businesses, other assets, inheritances, and much more.