Tuesday, June 16, 2020

The Teacher Within: Channeling Debbie Downer (SNL)

The Teacher Within: Channeling Debbie Downer (SNL)
June 2020
Melinda Gustafson Gervasi, Attorney & Author

More often than not, in my legal counsel, I am the Debbie Downer in the meeting.  My role as teacher to my clients requires it at times.

Debbie Downer was a character on the NBC show Saturday Night Live played by actress Rachel Dratch who debuted in 2004.  The name "Debbie Downer" has become a slang phrase, meaning someone who frequently adds bad news and negative feelings to a gathering. In the end, she brings down the mood for everyone.

For example:

  • Great, you want your estate to go to your children if both spouses have died -- what happens if your children predecease you?
  • Who will you name as a back-up health care agent if both you and your primary agent are in a car crash together and s/he cannot act?
  • What happens to your estate if neither your spouse nor any of your children/grandchildren survive you?
  • Keeping a will at home is dangerous -- there are fires, floods, thieves walking off with your safe box, or a relative who reads it, disagrees, and tears it up.
And now I can add to the list -- don't overlook the chance your dog may eat and destroy your will.  Straight from the headlines -- a Texas Probate Judge hears a dispute about a missing will.  The decedent had three children from a prior relationship, and was married to a man that was not the father of her children. A daughter claims that a 2009 will, which gave the estate to the three children, was eaten and destroyed by the drafting attorney's dog (a 2 year-old Golden Doodle named Linus).  To complicate matters, the decedent made another will in 2003, leaving her assets to her husband.  And there you have it, a will dispute because the lawyer's dog is alleged to have eaten a will.  This is not made up.  It will linger in my mind until it comes up one day in a client meeting or seminar.  Plan for the worse case scenario.  You'll be thankful.  Apparently dogs don't just eat homework, but Last Wills & Testaments as well.

Remember, this blog generates ideas and conversations.  It is meant to be educational, and should not be taken as legal advice.  Please consult an attorney in your state of residence for legal advice specific to your situation. Thanks for reading. 

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Keeping An Estate Plan Organized During Chaotic Times

Keeping An Estate Plan Organized During Chaotic Times
By Attorney Melinda Gustafson Gervasi
June 4, 2020

Estate planning to me is planning for three things: illness, death and taxes.  Not all estate plans look alike, but all should address these issues.  Your documents might include powers of attorney, beneficiary forms, authorization for burial, a will, and sometimes a trust.  But an estate plan goes beyond paperwork. Estate planning is the act of taking control. 

Control includes saying who will do what, and where assets will go. However, control extends beyond putting your wishes in a legal binding format. It includes controlling your paperwork.  What good is an estate plan if it cannot be found when it is needed?  If a sudden illness or death happened tomorrow, would your loved ones know where to find your documents?

A simple 3-ring binder clearly marked may serve you well.  Include subject dividers, but instead of saying math, science, and history, they would say:

  • Powers of Attorney
  • End-of-Life wishes
  • Beneficiary Forms for your retirement, insurances, and or investments
  • Will and or Trust
  • Deed to your real estate
  • Car Title(s)
  • Phone numbers and emails of key people in your life: family members, primary care doctor; accountant; pet sitter; nanny; etc. 
  • Copy of your most recent holiday card mailing address list
  • Pre-written obituary or bullet points on key points
  • List of recurring bills on autopay
Kindergarten Chaos After Teddy Bear Sleepover

Thank you for reading this educational piece.  Please do not take it for legal advice, as everyone’s situation is unique.