Estate Planning: A Plan for a Grand finale

“We’re so lucky.”

I kept saying that to my sisters following my 90-year-old father’s passing in early 2013. I’m not sure they appreciated why I kept saying that. I said it because we were lucky he’d lived a great life. We were lucky to have had him so long, especially given my mother had died in 1988. We were lucky Dad had all his faculties to the end, even as his body disintegrated.

Most of all, though, we were lucky he’d generated and executed a complete estate plan. Thanks to John Heebner’s sense of responsibility, the logistics, legalities and, above all, the grief of his daughters weren’t multiplied needlessly by a lack of foresight on the part of our parent.

I knew where he kept the documents. He’d made sure to show me which file drawer they were in a few years prior to his death. He’d put together a trust to avoid probate. He’d also made it clear, as my mother had many years before, that he did not want extensive measures used to prolong his life. He had his Power of Attorney ready to go. He’d made his attorney the executor of his will so we girls wouldn’t argue over it. (Yes, we would have.)

A friend of mine who’s an excellent Geriatric Care Manager knew a successful doctor who, in his mid-80s, had all his estate planning and paperwork done. It was found in his desk drawer following his death – all unsigned. His estate wound up in probate, of course, and the difficulty and pain were compounded because there had been two marriages, two sets of offspring – but nothing had been updated since the first marriage.

My own estate planning attorney now has to struggle with the fact that there are now only two – count ‘em, two! – probate courts for the whole of Los Angeles County. When he needs to go to trial on behalf of a client, it’s now often an eight to ten month wait for a court date. Talk about prolonging the agony.

My Dad had even cleared much of the superfluous stuff out of the house, something I often do on behalf of other families as a Senior Move Manager. But Dad had taken the time to do a lot of the decluttering so his daughters wouldn’t have to, although there was one thing John Heebner did hoard. Given that my father had been a very successful businessman in Buffalo and that he had an MBA from Harvard, I don’t suppose it’s really so great a surprise that he’d kept all his tax returns back to 1957.

Given all he’d done for us, I couldn’t really begrudge him his collection of 1040s, even as I was lugging 256 pounds worth of them out of the house for shredding. After all, he’d made sure all the vital paper, all the documents we’d really need, were there waiting for us.

If you don’t plan for a grand finale, you – and your family – can easily wind up with a tragic ending.

 

Marty Stevens-Heebner