September 12, 2016

Estate planning: we signed our will and trust documents!

FINALLY: We signed our will and trust documents! Big news!

We will not die intestate. JuggerBaby will not have to relive the plot of A Little Princess.

Best case scenario, we won’t need to execute any of this for so many years that this day will be a faint memory. But if we’re not so lucky, we’ll be as prepared as we possibly could be.

Our estate is relatively simple so it was a little embarrassing to take as long as we did (rather, that I did, since this was my project) and I didn’t expect to be anything but impatient and exultant in wrapping this up. It’s taken a record 10 and a half months to get these documents in order. But as usual, simple doesn’t mean easy.

It was held up by two things. One was sensible – we had to complete the refinance so we could easily retitle that property.

The other just feels, for lack of a better work, absurd. I’ve spent most of 2016 down with one plague or another. Right this moment I’m weakly trying to fight off the latest one to creep its way into my respiratory system. Begone, ye foul germs! It seemed less than civilized to go to fancy law offices, a dribbly, germy zombie, signing legal documents I couldn’t make heads or tails of.

Going into this whole thing, PiC had a natural reluctance to get into the nitty gritty that I disregarded on the principle that, yes, it’s depressing and terrible to think about but NOT doing it is worse! I was completely rational when sharing our thinking and process over a year ago, laying out the steps we were taking in my In Case of Emergency series kickoff. Of course I did. And of course, when the paperwork was sent over for review, the weight of the decisions we were signing to fell like an anvil in my gut.

As it turns out, when you’re planning for the future like this, you’re imagining the events that you’d want to transpire after your death. Then the inch-and-a-half tall stack of text is in front of you, you’re staring at a check box next to “do everything possible to prolong life” and another one next to “Do Not Resuscitate,” and your family’s possible future where either question is a reality flashes, slow motion, in front of you. It’s not a stretch to imagine, either, we’ve already gone through this with family members. We know how it feels to make the decision to keep trying or pull the plug. Suddenly everything feels awful and real.

We had a tough conversation over those documents, where we mutually avoided talking in detail about our long-gone parents, having to make that decision, and the idea of leaving JuggerBaby way too early.

The surprising part? Something had shifted in me.  For most of my life, I didn’t care if anything happened to me because I didn’t have a deep emotional attachment to anything or anyone. I had responsibilities and a duty to take care of my family but while that was strong enough to anchor me in working, earning, and paying off debt, it was no replacement for having a compelling reason to live. It’s not to say I didn’t want to live, I just wasn’t worried about not living either, if that makes any sense.

Now, I do not want to imagine leaving my family to fend for themselves without me. I have a lifetime of guidance to give, and money management to share, and hopes for a future with my partner. But like we’ve always said, failure to plan for the events of your death are both futile and selfish. If either one of us were horribly injured or died, it would be terrible. But not having our financial affairs in order, not knowing what the other person wanted, and having to untangle all of that while grieving? MUCH worse. It’s also irrational to act as if planning for your death means that you want or you’re tempting fate, I think, but I’ve heard a lot of people use that excuse. Pardon me, but we ARE going to die someday. The least we can do for our loved ones is spare them some turmoil to go along with the pain of loss.

So. Now then. As I said, we talked, we emoted, we had feelings. And then we went to the lawyer’s office and signed everything officially with a notary witness. IT IS DONE.

Next steps: they will send us a binder for our records. We will begin moving our assets into the trust because an unfunded trust is an empty shell. That’s a story for another day! For now, I’m going to toast a glass of watered down juice (for the purposes of avoiding heartburn because my body is 89 years old) to completing the last huge To Do on my list from 2015!

:: Have you completed a will and/or a trust? Have you ever received, or expect to receive, a distribution of assets from either a will or a trust?

August 17, 2015

Estate planning (ICE): will and trust

This is the main body of our estate plan.

We’re setting up a revocable trust, the two of us as co-trustees, and most of our assets will be tucked into the trust.  As a married couple, we’re electing to create an A/C trust where upon the death of the first spouse, it’ll be split into a survivor’s trust and a marital trust. This protects the deceased’s half of the trust for the intended beneficiaries.

For a real life example, let’s say I die first. I always die first in these scenarios. This leaves PiC and LB with our entire estate. It’ll be split into two trusts: PiC’s and mine. Mine, the marital trust, will be held in trust for LB’s basic needs (food, shelter, education) and for the support of my Dad (food, shelter). His half, the survivor trust, will be his to use as he sees fit for basic needs and so on. Now, should he go on to remarry, his next spouse would presumably have access to his half of the trust, but she can’t lay a finger on my half – LB will never be a modern day Cinderella left destitute because of an irresponsible or conniving second spouse. Uh, not that PiC would be so careless as to marry such a person…. but just in case!

Same goes in the reverse scenario so we can always rest assured that if one of us isn’t around, LB will be provided for.

Now, if we both die at the same time and are survived by LB, the whole trust will then be held for LB and Seamus’s care, again for basic needs until ze comes of age. LB would be the beneficiary of something like 95% of the trust, the rest would be designated for Seamus and our parents assuming they’re still around to need it, but we’re building in safeguards there as well.

First, we’ll designate trusted executors and trustees of the estate to manage the assets so that the wealth we’ve saved for hir continues to grow and can provide for hir as long as necessary.

Second, we’re designating different people to care for hir because I simply don’t want there to be any conflict of interest between the person taking care of hir and the people who can disburse funds from hir estate. You never know what can happen over the course of a childhood and frankly, I think having too free a hand with the estate can mean that liberties may be taken. I wouldn’t pick people who I’d expect to do that but to be completely honest, there are very few people I trust to manage money as closely and carefully as I would, and if my own life experience with money has taught me anything, it’s that things happen out of your control and alter the entire course of your plans. People who haven’t proven themselves through adversity may not respond in the best hoped way to obstacles like job loss or other financial misfortune. I would be a fool not to plan to protect our assets for LB should hir caretakers hit a rough patch.

Third, ze doesn’t get the estate automatically upon turning 18. Ze has to prove that ze isn’t just going to rely on it like a crutch, showing us that ze is responsible with money and earning hir own way. We’ll support hir through university but ze has to be responsible with that gift, too. And it is a gift. I had to pay my way through college and I think that was an important part of making my character.

Last, if we die under suspicious circumstances, everything goes to charity. Ok, that sounds like I’ve watched too much tv, or read too much news, but I don’t think it’s the worst fail-safe to have. And even if we don’t die under terrible and suspicious circumstances, it may still be where much of our wealth goes in the end. I don’t expect my kid to be a bad seed, but who does? I intend to be honest with LB about the estate, in age-appropriate terms, because I want hir to learn to manage money responsibly but I’m not blind to the fact that like my brother, ze may simply not be anything like us and may find that having all that accumulated wealth is crippling rather than a tool for good.

I don’t intend for hir to grow up without us but, while all this may seem morbid, the whole point of this exercise is to make sure that the worst cannot happen. One of the worst things I can imagine is LB being alone in the world, both bereft of family and of material support, left to grow up in far worse circumstances than I ever did.

More Estate Planning:

Estate planning (ICE): Guardianship
Estate Planning (ICE): Life insurance
Estate planning (ICE): Advance Health Care Directive
Estate planning: the In Case of Emergency kickoff

June 26, 2015

Estate planning (ICE): guardianship

This is the toughest question.

How do you choose a guardian for your child?

Right off, my immediate family is off the list. No way I’d trust my sibling or my father with the care and raising of LB, period.

Not even if they had enough income to do so. But of course I would expect to leave our entire estate in trust with annual disbursement allowances for care and maintenance and education and I doubly wouldn’t trust either one of them not to be completely foolish or selfish. (Can you really double zero trust? Just for emphasis.)

So that’s right out. And so are just about all my extended family half of whom I wouldn’t trust farther than I could heave a tree stump with a candy bar, much less my child.

Then we have to think about what we’re looking for in substitute parents which is what guardians would ideally be.

Our criteria

Who has the same values as we do?
Who has similar, or equally valuable, life experiences that they can pass on?
Who has a good grasp of setting boundaries and enforcing discipline?
Who has some experience in parenting and therefore understands inherently that every child is different?

I have a horror of leaving LB to guardians who think children should be cookie cutter personalities, or that they have to be pushed to excel beyond their limits, or any number of unreasonable things.

And it’s not all about LB. Seamus is going to need a good home and care as well. I’d much rather they stayed together but it’s possible that could be harder.

If they can’t stay together, if the best home for LB isn’t one that can take him on, then we just need to find them best home for him, period. He is well liked by one set of friends but he hasn’t earned the place in their hearts where they ask for him to come visit for weekends and longer just because they love having him around. That was Doggle. If we had a terrible accident I always knew we had at least one friend who positively doted on Doggle and would have taken him in immediately. (Yes I am absolutely planning on leaving the dog a bequest. How could I not? He’s still our responsibility and dog cannot live on love alone.) He, and any other companion critters we might adopt, will still need homes, food and veterinary care.
At this time, I have one family member who knows me best and respects me as an adult person. That’s probably going to be my first choice for LB – this person was close to me and my mom and so would know how to substitute for me. Next best would be a couple of friends I love and respect but I’m not totally sure if I could ask them for such a big favor.

PiC is likely to nominate someone on his side.

We’ll have to pick one person to be the first choice rather than co-guardians as that could be confusing for LB and complicated as well. Either way we go, I feel like LB risks losing touch with some of hir family because our two families don’t have much to do with each other.
Ultimately, this stage of planning, unlike any other, seriously underscores how important it is that we stay alive and well.

More Estate Planning:

Estate Planning (ICE): Life insurance
Estate planning (ICE): Advance Health Care Directive
Estate planning: the In Case of Emergency kickoff

May 27, 2015

Estate Planning (ICE): Life insurance

It used to be that life insurance was a standard part of any benefits package from my employer. I took that a little bit for granted once I stopped working retail. Now I have to scout out my own because I haven’t had a policy in force in ages. With Little Bean in the picture, that has to change pronto!

Life would be tough enough for PiC not having me around to take care of the stuff I manage (and I’m sure he’d miss me). Having to do without my income for a period of time with a kid, a dog, mortgages and all would be the pits, to say the least.

We have the bulk of our insurance with State Farm these days. Previously my car insurance for myself and Dad were with GEICO but the claim process was too bare bones. I don’t think it was worth the minimal savings anymore. We’re at that point where we really have to pay a little bit more for decent service rather than wasting massive gobs of time getting assessments, chasing down guilty parties, etc.

Flashback

I used to have Mercury Insurance which was another cheapish outfit, about ten years or so ago, but they weren’t so chintzy that they didn’t follow up on accident claims themselves. Some reckless jerk rammed my car on the freeway because he was in too much of a hurry to change four lanes one at a time and had to cut across all four in one go.
Mercury wanted to take the easy way out and have me split responsibility for the accident. A 50-50 split would cost half my $1000 deductible and I’d take 50% responsibility on my record without being assessed points, the rep explained.
My answer was a polite HELL. NO. The only fault I bore in that accident was existing on the same roads as the goon who failed the looking out his windshield exam so I held my ground and insisted that they pursue a no fault to me resolution.
Three months later that guy and his insurance caved and admitted that it was entirely his fault.
I refuse to eat the cost of other people’s poor judgment but I now don’t have time to personally pursue it when stuff happens.

I requested quotes from State Farm and Allstate for 30 year term policies ranging from 200-400k.

State Farm noodled around for weeks refusing to email quotes but also failing to get them in the mail for six weeks. After a few followups they sent me a stack of quotes along with some other poor sod’s paperwork but the quotes were useless. The policies were for both me and PiC when I’d requested policies just for me (in writing, by email so there was a record of the request), and listed me as a 30 year old male. The agent’s response when I pointed out the basic errors? “I forgot what you wanted.”

Oh, you forgot I was female and that you have my birthday on file? That’s cute. Nope, wait, that’s not competent.  So that’s three strikes for State Farm: inconvenient, AND failed customer service twice.

Allstate actually approached me at the time I was doing price/plan comps so I gave them a shot. Unlike State Farm, Allstate provided quotes for ME within a day. Apart from the super cheesy “it pays to be young and healthy!” rah rah comment from the agent, that quote process was painless.

I used a Bankrate calculator to figure out how much insurance I’d need considering factors like:
My age;
The ages of spouse and child(ren);
My income;
My mortgage and other debts (none);
College expenses for child(ren) and/or spouse;
My funeral expenses.

Bankrate seems to think I need a policy for 1.7M. That’s a hell of a lot more than I was expecting and seems wildly out of proportion to my previous expectations. Maybe I need to play with the variables a bit more and do more research into how each one affects the recommendation. I doubt I’ll go for anything over $1M at this point, though.

April 29, 2015

Estate planning (ICE): Advance Health Care Directive

Who do you trust to make health care decisions for you?

We’re making out our advanced care directives and while we have a basic idea of how we’d take care of each other, we need to designate decision makers if both of us are out of commission.

Our criteria

Who has enough basic knowledge of medicine and the medical establishment to be an advocate?
Who would understand our wishes AND comply with them regardless of their personal feelings, philosophy or religious beliefs?
In sum: who could we trust to intelligently make health care decisions that are in our best interests as we see them?

Our candidates

It might seem like “family” is the automatic answer, but as with other issues, that’s not necessarily the case.

I have a couple relatives who work in the medical field directly or indirectly and I would trust one of them to take the time to exercise good judgment, and seek the expertise or resources necessary to make the best possible decision for us.

PiC has a couple of friends in the same position. We would trust one of them to do the same or serve as a resource to the primary decision-maker if medical complications had to be addressed.

The other considerations are location and availability.

The person/ people we designate would have to be willing to drop everything to come to us to make those decisions in the event. While we’d certainly pay for those travel expenses, there’s no doubt that would be highly disruptive to their family lives.

Aside from the actual legalities, we need to have a clear conversation with the nominees to be sure this was something they were ready and willing to do, and make sure they have all our pertinent information as well as what we want done in case of incapacitation in writing.

At the moment, I’m fairly certain I know who I’d designate as mine. We still need PiC’s decision.

:: Have you got either a designated decision-maker or do you know who you’d trust to do the honors?

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