If you watch our videos and read the content on HaimoLaw.com, we guarantee you’ll better understand wills, trusts, probate, business planning, and asset protection; the basic positive and negatives about each area and why they are important to you, your family and your business. Unfortunately, few people understand and appreciate the emotional benefits of avoiding probate and guardianship proceedings, so we’re going to take you through the process of what happens when someone passes away.
Imagine that a close loved one passes away that failed to plan ahead. Think about how difficult losing someone you love so dearly will be on you and your family. It’s raw, shocking and difficult. Here’s what you need to do while you’re trying to cope with your new reality: you have to make funeral arrangements if they are not already made. There are decisions to be made about clothing, caskets, scheduling day and time, who will give a eulogy, what will they read, will there be a gathering afterwards, will there be food, where will it come from, who will be invited…It’s overwhelming.
Following the funeral, it’s important to locate the will. You don’t know if one exists? There’s also life insurance, retirement accounts and bank accounts. Do you know where they store important documents? Would you be tearing apart their desk, the file cabinet and the drawers? What would you find? How would you feel about having to search? Whether or not you find the documents, you have to figure out how to transfer the property. Keep in mind that you sometimes cannot take your time sifting through a loved one’s items because they have expenses that must be paid. Without a plan, this generally means probate, and probate translates to lawyers, appraisers and strangers becoming intimate with your loved one’s affairs. Through probate, accounts are accessed and creditors will be paid. Property may be divided, transferred or sold and will ultimately given to the appropriate beneficiaries. Dealing with an estate can take years.
Aside from the fees, costs and time associated with probate, which could have been avoided, the biggest impact of probate is on your emotions. Grieving the loss of a loved one takes time even without complications; and probate is a huge complication. It extends the process beyond that which is healthy. Remember that failing to plan ahead forces the state to choose your beneficiaries for you. This unpredictable result can further exacerbate the above and ignite already tense family feuds.
Now imagine that your loved one planned ahead. In the hours following the passing, you go to the funeral home, and the director tells you that your loved one came in years ago and chose their own service, with music, readings, flowers, and everything all selected and prepaid. There’s nothing to decide except what day to do it. You find out that the your loved one already planned and prepaid for his/her life celebration party afterwards. There are no decisions to make – the director tells you to go home, grieve, and take care of your family. You arrive at the house, and you already know where the estate plan binder is stored because you’ve already been over it. You were consulted and things were discussed ahead of time in order to ensure a smooth and seamless transition.
You know there’s a letter inside containing instructions for what needs to be done. You contact a probate or estate attorney, and they inform you that there’s nothing to do right now and, again, to take care of your family, grieve, and contact him/her in a few weeks. Those early hours, days and weeks are precious time to be with your loved ones to remember and celebrate to one who has died and to work on your own processing of what’s happened and what it means to you. An estate plan gives you that time. It even gives you more time if you don’t have to deal with the hassle of probate, which requires you – if appointed and accept to serve as personal representative – to be forcibly thrusted into their personal and financial affairs.
Planning ahead effectively eliminates the need for attorneys, court, large fees and wasted time. The process becomes simple and quick and easier on you, your family and your loved one’s loved ones. I am quite sure that you would prefer the easier route so what is stopping you from doing this for YOUR loved ones?
Written by Barry E. Haimo, Esq., President of Haimo Law, a south Florida boutique estate and business planning law firm.