This past month has seen its fair share of misfortune and heartbreak for me and those close to me. My dear next door neighbor in Tennessee who I've written about many time, Miss Jo, passed away with great sadness to all of the community. Additionally, one of our team here at Chestnut lost a parent. We all have our different ways of dealing with loss, as there is no right or wrong way to process this catastrophe of humanity. For me, I've always had a problem dealing with the issue that the person gone today was here just yesterday to talk to, and now and forever, the conversations have ceased. They are not there to laugh and cry with, to ask or offer advice, or just to be there when we need them. Suddenly they are gone, and there is just not enough time to prepare... ever.
Dignity. Some years ago I visited a loved one in a nursing home, just getting settled. I looked around at the residents- mostly women, perhaps 20% men. What struck me was that all of these people at one time were productive, vibrant members of our society: Moms and Dads, accountants, teachers, salespeople, nurses and the list goes on. People who owned homes, drove cars, vacationed, laughed and danced and partied with the best of them. Is this what it comes down to? Spending your last years in a nursing home sharing a room with a stranger, possessions whittled down to a dresser, TV and a drawer full of clothes? I returned to my car and shook, thinking... is this how it ends? A personal end of life disaster? NO: not for me, and I hope, not for you.
Life planning for all of us involves getting up in the morning and deciding how today and every day going forward is going to go. From religious beliefs to financial and estate planning, from deciding if you're going to go to work or to the beach, life planning is just as it sounds: planning for your life. The tricky issue here is the day we are born we don't know what our last day is to be, so not only planning for your days here on earth are important, it's equally important to plan for the day we pass on. Contrary to popular belief, sitting down and doing all that "adult stuff" will not bring your life to an end: but considering the ramifications of not doing that "adult stuff" is enough to realize what happens if you don't do it. Dying without a Will constitutes "dying intestate" meaning you died without drafting a will. Your will is your declaration of what you want to happen to your stuff should you die- and trust me, you will. When, I can't say- but if you will is a good bet to take. If you don't have a will, it is now up to the courts to decide a number of issues that could have been avoided if you had spent the time to take care of your legal documents. In New York, if the decedent dies with assets of more than $30,000, an administrator will be appointed by the courts to see to the distribution of your estate. Usually, in order of preference, the appointment will go to the spouse, the children, the grandchildren, the father, mother brother or sister, usually in that order. They then have to go to the courts and be legally appointed, giving the administrator the authority to act on behalf of the estate, or you. Since the decedent died without a Will, ultimately the law governs how the estate is distributed, which may be quite contrary to what you wanted while you were alive. But, since you didn't take the time to say who you wanted to get what, a stranger in the courts may decide for you.
Dying intestate leave a veritable mess behind for those you love and care for. It's timely, costly, and ultimately may lead to a division in your loved ones and friends. Anyone can apply to the courts for a piece of your pie, and although they may not be meritorious in court, it's a nightmare for the one who is ultimately named as your administrator, or executor. Do everybody a favor: take the responsibility to make sure your estate is in order before you end up dying intestate: losing you is bad enough, but leaving a mess behind is, well, an absolute mess.
As mentioned above, last month I personally lost a dear friend, Jo Schism- my neighbor, friend and a part of my Tennessee family. This article is not based on Jo in any way- I just needed an outlet to say how much she will be missed and loved for and by many people forever, including Elizabeth, Murphy (my dog), myself, and all her family on Willowcrest Place. She will be dearly missed. Thanks for listening...
For more information on Neal's take on Life, Love and Money, just call the office to get his book, "Tales From the Chestnut Tree" at a discounted rate for all our readers. Just call the below number, we'll hook you up... happy reading!