As a child, I watched the movie “Annie” where the little orphan Annie sings the lines:
“Tomorrow, tomorrow. I love ya, tomorrow. You’re always a day away.”
Annie is singing about how the sun will come out tomorrow, and that she will have brighter prospects for her life in the orphanage because of the sunny day that will come. However, she makes an interesting point with the line “You’re always a day away.”
Tomorrow is always in the future, as tomorrow refers to a future time, and once tomorrow gets here, we call it today. Tomorrow is an ever present barrier to getting an estate plan done…everybody things they have plenty of time to do it, and that nothing will happen soon, so estate planning can be put off until tomorrow, or the next day, or some time in the future. Everybody realizes that they are going to die, and that they will need an estate plan.
But since the event is not an the immediate concern, it is easily brushed aside in favor of more pressing matters. The event of death, or other emergency can be far distant until it arrives unannounced, and a crisis hits. Before a crisis hits is the time to plan ahead, so that your tomorrow does not turn into a nightmare.
Time Does Run Out
A couple of months ago I had a client who contacted me to set up an will and an estate plan. This client had been sick for over two years with terminal cancer, and I went to meet with them at their home. We discussed what the individual wanted to have happen in their estate plan, and I drafted the estate plan the next day, when I had some free time, and sent it out to them for review. We planned to get together the next week, but the individual passed away over the weekend, so the plan was never signed. As such, the draft estate plan was not completed. This person needed to have their assets go through probate and assets were distributed according to the pattern established by the intestate statute, instead of the pattern this individual described in to me, which was to be included in the will.
As an unfortunate side effect, the family of the deceased individual became very angry at me for not having completed the estate plan before the individual passed away. Since I had only met with the individual a day and a half before the individual’s passing, and it does take time to get an estate plan drafted, reviewed, and ready to go, I did my best to complete my work, but the timing was too short. I understood the family’s anger, but also thought about how the illness had been going on for two years before I met the individual. If this individual had contacted me sometime in the previous two years, we may have been able to complete the estate plan, and avoided the mess that ensued.
Planning Ahead is Always Good, Even if Time Is Short
In contrast, I had another client from a couple of years ago who had been given a terminal cancer diagnosis, with 6 – 12 weeks to live. This client came to see me, and we got her estate plan done and signed within 3 weeks. When she passed away, her surviving spouse had no trouble carrying out her wishes, including what to do with their 3 year old son, as they had been properly written down, the documents executed properly, and her wishes were legally enforceable because of it. The family was very happy because everything was in order. I am not sure that I had a much different approach for either family, but since we had time to get this estate plan completed, and we did not for the first person, there was a remarkable difference in the outcome and happiness of the families.
Last Minute Planning Can Also Cause Problems
I had a different client who met with me over a year ago, but delayed setting any estate plan up until approximately 9 months after we first met. The client did complete their estate plan paperwork, but delayed again in getting assets put into the trust we had created. After an additional three months of delay, the family contacted me to request that I move assets into the trust. I said I would help move the assets, and that I would send out an engagement letter to them to get the process started. Later that day, another sibling called me to let me know that their father had passed away the night before. It was only another week or two before the mother passed away. Since both had passed away before the trust was fully funded, and some assets were still titled in the personal names of the deceased individuals, the trust did not control what happened to the assets.
In this case, the 9 month delay meant that the mother was no longer able to understand what she was doing, as her mental state had deteriorated. Her will from many years ago did not place her assets in the trust, as would most often happen when writing a trust and we could not write a new will because of her lack of mental capacity.
A pour over will – a will that puts everything into the trust at death if not previously transferred to the trust – is what we generally prepare to go along with a trust, but diminished mental capacity meant we could not write such a will in this case. As a result, some of the Mom’s assets were transferred to the designated beneficiaries of the asset, and not the beneficiaries listed in the trust. The family is now starting to fight one another over the situation, and they are upset that everything was not completed before the parents died. Some siblings blame the other siblings, and so they are now fighting it out.
The parents ran out of tomorrows because they delayed in taking action to fund their trust, so now the siblings are fighting because the parents thought there would be plenty of tomorrow left to handle their estate plan.
Similar Situation, Different Outcome
Again, I have a client with a contrasting story. This client came to me and we set up a trust for him, and one for his mother. He was then diagnosed with a serious illness, which claimed his life three months later. His mother passed away two months after that happened. Neither trust had been funded, but since we had set up the pour over wills, we could get assets into the trust and distributed to the proper beneficiaries. The process took a little bit longer than had the trust been fully funded, but everything got to the proper people, and the families were happy. This client’s tomorrows ran out before he expected them to end, but he was covered because of the planning ahead.
Crisis Events Don’t Show Up at Convenient Times
I cannot count the number of times I have had people call me and request me to set up a power of attorney to allow them to make decisions for a relative, or a loved one, who was in the hospital, or a nursing home, or some other crisis situation. Sometimes I am able to help, but other times I cannot help with a power of attorney because the person is mentally incapacitated, or unable to know what they are doing to set up a power of attorney. The middle of a crisis is not the time to get legal documents prepared, as it does take time to get the documents drafted and out to you. For many of these people, there are no tomorrows to use in setting things up.
Make Your Tomorrow Today!
The best way to avoid any of these situations is to turn tomorrow into today. Don’t let your tomorrows run out. Set an appointment to get your estate plan in order today (or as soon as an appointment is available) by going here. Or, let your family and friends know that you care enough about them today to make sure their tomorrow is set and secure with an estate plan that is up to date, complete, and done.