The Silver Life - Online community and resource for active Silver Surfers

Online Community & Resource for Active Silver Surfers

The Silver Life

Online Community & Resource for Active Silver Surfers

Uncomfortable, But Necessary, Issue

Nearing the Nest: Moving Closer to Your ChildrenNearing the Nest: Moving Closer to Your Children

“Aretha Franklin’s sons battle over late singer’s estate” | Fox Business

That is a headline that I am fairly confident Ms. Franklin never envisaged. Nevertheless, it is a headline that illustrates what too many Estate lawyers deal with on an almost daily basis. What makes this a real tragedy is not just that the offspring of a recently departed loved one has reached the point where the legal knives are out and a rupture has occurred that may never be healed. It is not that the real financial winners in this are the attorneys representing each party in what may be a prolonged fight. The real tragedy is that this all could have been avoided had Ms. Franklin written a will, designating the desired division of her assets and her rationale for each decision. Of course, there could still be arguments made contesting such a division, but at least there would have been a starting point.

My wife and I recently updated our will and, for what it’s worth, here are our thoughts on how we did it to, hopefully, head off any similar dispute leading to bitter feelings. Perhaps they will prompt discussion and action on your part. First, we asked each of our children what items in our home they would especially like to inherit and we made note of those choices and acted on them. (In fact, as we noted that certain of the items identified were items we no longer used, we gave them to them at Christmas or birthday.) In addition to our children and grandchildren we wished to remember, there were also close friends and some charities we wanted to include and we identified what items or monetary sums should go to each. The entire list of “gifts” was detailed, each item photographed and labelled, and the list attached to our will.

We then designated an executor that knows my wife and I well and in whom we could trust to carry out our wishes completely. We told our children that we would not designate one or both of them to be executor as a method of ensuring that there was no perceived conflict or resentment between the executor and the remaining heirs. Next, we wrote and attached to our document, a statement to the effect that there was no intention to favor anyone, but in the event that such feelings arose, the fault should be ours and not whomever was the perceived “favored”. We also noted that the estate is comprised of “things” and that our love for them was much more important and valuable than mere “things” that would eventually pass on.

Finally, we also executed documents naming our power of attorney and our health surrogate. To aid in this we found Five Wishes to be invaluable and we went over each of our choices with our children. As someone who has worked in the Hospice organization, I have seen families torn apart because of there being no clarity about what course to take at the end of life if a loved one is incapable of speech or coherent thought. And, like the selfishness of not preparing a will or estate plan, not preparing for end of life decisions is a terrible thing to inflict on one’s loved ones.

Copies of all documents were sent to our executor, originals kept by our attorney. The key to all this is communication with each of the principals. I am confident that each of us knows of a horror story about a hostile estate resulting in fractured relations and perhaps even bitter legal battles. I entreat you to seek informed legal advice, be detailed in your wishes for your estate and your end of life choices, and communicate to all concerned.

Please do not be so unthinking as to be the author of a situation like that of the headline above.

Image courtesy of Getty Images

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About the Author: Dennis F.

Dennis has lived or traveled in Australia, the United States and Asia. He is an Army veteran with a PhD in Child and Developmental Psychology. He currently lives in the mountains of Western North Carolina, USA, with his wife Nancy and two dogs. Dennis is keenly interested in antiques, particularly militaria and coins. He occupies his time researching and writing for The Silver Life and caretaking houses for the summer residents of the mountains. Dennis is a founding member of The Silver Life.

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