No one likes to get caught unprepared, whether it be running out of gas on a lonely highway or failing to complete a work project in a timely manner. The feeling of dread and regret is the same in both situations and the solution is oftentimes an easy one: plan ahead. If smart planning is something we can all acknowledge is important, why did nearly 2.5 million Americans die last year without executing a will?
In January of 2012, a wealthy N.Y. businessman, Roman Blum, passed away with an estate valued at approximately $40 million. Mr. Blum was a Holocaust survivor whose real estate savvy helped him create a vast fortune. However, despite the strong urgings of his financial advisors and friends, Mr. Blum died at the age of 97 without signing a will that would have dictated how he wanted his fortune divided between his friends and/or favorite charities. Despite a worldwide search for his heirs, no living family members have been found to date. This means that all of Mr. Blum’s wealth likely will escheat (be distributed) to the State of New York. Mr. Blum obviously was an intelligent, hard-working, successful man who failed to realize that waiting until tomorrow to do what you should have done yesterday is a recipe for an estate planning disaster.
While the answers as to why so many Americans follow Mr. Blum’s path vary widely, an easy solution exists for all of those who do not want to end up as part of a statistic: plan ahead.
1. Provide for those you love. Whether it is a spouse, your children/grandchildren, close friends, or your favorite charity, we all have someone or something we love. However, unless you properly execute a will or trust, your loved ones may not benefit to the extent you would have wished and no one gets a second chance to make this decision once they are gone. If you die without an estate plan, Ohio law resolves how most of your possessions are divided and thus determines who will benefit from your wealth and to what extent. This could result in a long-lost or even estranged relative receiving your fortune instead of your best friend or favorite charity such as your alma mater. Furthermore, properly executing an estate plan is especially important for same-sex couples who receive no legal protection under current Ohio law with respect to their partner’s estate.
2. Protect yourself and provide direction for your family. Unfortunately, one of the only sure things in life is that father time will eventually catch up with you. However, with advancements in medical technology, people are enjoying living much longer lives, but people are also facing debilitating diseases that cause diminished mental capacity. In order to protect yourself and to ensure that your wishes are respected, it is crucial to elect a trusted friend or family member to handle your financial and medical decisions when the time comes that you are no longer able to make these decisions for yourself. By taking the time to decide who should have this power and by providing guidance as to how you would like to receive or refuse medical treatment, you can successfully eliminate potential arguments over what you would want if you were able to make the decision yourself.
3. Don’t wait, sign today! Review and revise it tomorrow! A common mistake is to wait too long to take the crucial step of creating an estate plan and once the window closes, either through death or permanent disability, it never re-opens. Instead of waiting until after the holidays or an upcoming trip or any other excuse you may offer to explain why your schedule is too busy, schedule an appointment with us to create your estate plan today. With proper advice, you can execute documents that are fully revocable and thus able to be changed at a later date to adapt to any changes in your life that may occur with respect to your finances or your personal relationships with family and friends. Avoid falling prey to the procrastination trap and make time to provide yourself and your family with peace of mind when the inevitable occurs.