A few years ago a close friend went to the hospital for tests. He had been feeling pain and discomfort in his legs. After two days and multiple tests he was sent home with the advice to get his affairs in order. We attended his funeral seven months later.
In one way my friend was fortunate. He knew – definitely – that the end of his life was near, very near. Everything a wise and prudent person could and should do, he did. As a result his family and friends mourned his death, celebrated his life, and regretted nothing.
Shipshape means to be “neatly arranged, tidy.” It is a navy term. It means that once you leave the safety and security of land – the source of unlimited supplies – everything you might need should already have been stored on board and everything that needed doing should have been done.
Shipshape is what our estate plans should be. Once we “set sail” and leave the activities of this life, the items on our “to-do list” should all have been checked off. The time for procrastination is over!
Six Things to Do
The first item to check off is to have a Valid Will. In this age of technology and computers there is absolutely no excuse for someone to not have a will and to face the possibility of dying “intestate.” Having your will properly prepared and witnessed according to the laws of your state is a necessity. Having it reviewed by a competent attorney is more than just a good idea. Choosing a trusted family member or good friend as the executor is tidying everything up. All of theses are the wisest investment of time that you can ever make.
Keeping in mind that one of your prime objectives should be the well-being of those left behind, creating a separate itemized and dated Disposition of Personal Property list – is the “neatly arranged” part of being shipshape in your estate planning. Being remembered in this way by a beloved parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle or friend is not only a meaningful gesture but it keeps peace in the family. What is not listed specifically can then be chosen by the children in order of birth. What’s left can be given to charity.
A Living Will is our last chance to voice how we want to be treated when we no longer can speak out our opinion. The thought of being kept alive by “extraordinary measures” is repugnant to most people. Dying with dignity, welcoming death as an inevitable part of life, is a high preference item for most sailors on the high seas of life.
However, a Living Will is neither a will nor a power of attorney. A living will simply expresses your personal desire not to have your life prolonged by artificial means. In most states, including California, the living will is superseded when you execute a health-care power of attorney or health-care directive.
A Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care (DPAHC) is another essential part of our planning. As we grow older, we face the real possibility of becoming mentally and/or physically incapacitated temporarily, perhaps even permanently.
Sensible estate planning means facing this bleak possibility head-on. Without a clear written statement of your desires, life support issues and the continuation of medical care can become contentious. Preparing these documents works as a kind of insurance. They take effect only if and when you become unable to manage your own affairs.
The person you choose to invest with this power is literally that person you trust with your life and whom you trust to carry out your expressed wishes despite the pressure and perhaps bullying tactics of medical professionals and other family members. The right to die with dignity and without the tremendous agony and expense for both you and other family members is a right confirmed by state, federal and even US Supreme Court decisions. That person – the attorney-in-fact – will know and act upon your wishes because you have discussed them together and are in agreement in principle and in fact.
Another important item to check off concerns your finances: who writes the checks and handles the money when you aren’t able. The Durable Power of Attorney for Finances (DPAF) means that you can appoint someone to act as your agent on financial matters. This power can be general, meaning that he/she can act on all financial matters, or it can be limited according to the language of the document.
It must be expressly stated that it is durable because in most states it becomes invalid should you become mentally incapacitated. Generally, this durable power is valid until revoked or the principal (you) dies. At that point the responsibility to act on your behalf is shifted to the executor.
There are two kinds of durable powers of attorney for finance: those that take effect immediately and those that become effective only when someone certifies that you are indeed incapacitated. If you want your attorney-in-fact to take over some or all of your financial matters now, you should make your document effective immediately. Then your attorney-in-fact can begin helping you with your finances right away and can continue to help if you later become incapacitated.
All things considered, if you trust that person enough to act in your best interest later, you should make it effective immediately, so he/she doesn’t have to go through the hassle and possible expense later to have you certified as incapacitated either physically or mentally.
Finally, the last thing you can do to make your estate plan ship-shape is to step back, take a good look – and then ask yourself, “Does My Estate Plan Reflect the Real Me?” Does your plan show that you are a loving and compassionate person who cares deeply about others?
The Charitable Reflection of our estate planning should mirror the special interests of our lifetime. Remembering those charitable causes in your estate plan is your last opportunity to leave a legacy of caring for others who hold the same values as you. We hope you will include Ananda among your special interests and remember the Janaka Foundation in your estate planning.
“Get a Round Tuit”
A recent survey of national charities like Ananda showed that about 40% of those people who said they would be remembering a particular charity in their estate plans never got around to it. Their actions did not match their good intentions.
To make it as easy as possible for you to “get a round tuit,” we have put up on our website the actual language you’ll need to include the above six items in your estate plans and/or links to sites where you can find the information you need. We hope that this will become a valued service for our loyal donors.
For further information about Wills, ask for our brochure, A Guide to Planning Your Will.
For other questions about estate planning, please contact Parvati Hansen at the Janaka Foundation office: