Taking Care of Business: Legal Matters
My father taught me at an early age that it is important to always keep your legal affairs in order. I thank him for that. He always had a will. The irony to that is when he passed away, we knew he had a will, but we never found it. It made caring out his wishes of his estate more difficult, expensive and time consuming. It made me realize that I didn’t want to do the same for my family. When I was 14, I rode my bike after school to work in a law firm that was owned by the mother of my debate partner. I learned a lot about more about law and taking care of legal matters. When Kevin and I married, we got our wills. When our children were born, we updated our wills. And when he passed away, I updated my will and POAs once more. While we never want to consider our end of life and what will transpire afterwards, it is the greatest gift of order and reconciliation of our financial and legal assets we could ever leave our families.
As widows, now more than ever, it is time we get our legal affairs in order by taking care of business.
This month we are talking about "Taking Care of Business Together". Carolyn Moor, our national founder, is asking everyone in our community to commit to doing one big thing on their "To Do" list that has been hanging around way too long. She is committed to filing her tax returns on time in 2017, not filing for an extension like the last decade. Breaking old patterns and asking others to join along and be accountable gets us there.
Thinking about all the ramifications of the changes in our lives because of becoming widows, made me realize as well, that now, no one knows where “my stuff” is…the bank accounts, the IRAs, the insurance policies, the safety deposit box, etc. My personal call to action for this month is to compose a letter to my children letting them know the details of my legal/financial matters as well as a current list of usernames and passwords. With our world governed more and more by technology and apps, encryption and security, we have more limited access than ever to our funds. Banks won’t allow access to safety deposit boxes or bank accounts without designated beneficiaries or legal documents which come much later in the estate planning process. We hear constantly from our members who they were unable to get copies of priceless photos from Facebook, or into accounts that they were locked out of. Make plans now so that doesn’t happen to your family.
As empowered women, we have an obligation to take care of business to save our families from this future chagrin. Who knows were “your stuff” is?
Our Modern Widows Club Houston and Woodlands Chapters were both able to have attorneys speak to us about Wills, Probate and Estate Planning. Nick Dupre spoke to the MWC Houston group and shared with us the basic overview of estate planning; “Who get What and How.” We learned a lot. While it is important to recognize the variances in local legal nuances, we can all safely say that our estates will be better managed when we have our affairs in order. Everyone should have a will and a power of attorney. As the financial and legal leaders of our families, we need to focus on having our affairs in order and being prepared. We know, more than anyone, what it’s like to handle someone’s estate. Once you have made your plans, you can relax and enjoy your life more because your affairs will be in good order.
Here are a few basic definitions that Nick shared with our group:
“Who Needs a Will?
The short answer to this question is: everyone that owns titled property. Examples of titled property include real estate, closely held business interest, investment/ checking/savings account, vehicles and even lawsuits. When a loved one dies, title to the decedent's property passes to the beneficiaries under the decedent's will or to the heirs-at-law if the decedent died without a will. However, there must be an actual transfer of ownership of the property by proving the will in court or, if there is no will, by having a court determine who are the decedent's heirs. The latter is expensive, time consuming and puts control in the hands of the court instead of the testator with a will title to property passes immediately at death, the assets of the estate are subject to the control of the executor or administrator of the estate for the purpose of settling the debts of and claims against the estate. A will provides a streamlined process to ensure proper transition of titled assets.
Planning for Incapacity
Estate planning is not only planning for control of assets at death, but also control of assets during life. In addition, to a Will, the fundamental estate plan also consists of a (i) statutory durable power of attorney (“DPOA”); (ii) a medical power of attorney (“MPOA”); and a (iii) directive to physicians. A DPOA appoints an agent to act on your behalf, with respect to money or property, where you are incapacitated or unavailable to act. Without an agent appointed to act on your behalf at incapacity, a guardianship proceeding is necessary to appoint someone for you. This process is expensive. A MPOA simply appoints someone as agent to make medical decisions on your behalf if you are unable. Finally, a directive to physicians simply provides whether you wish to use, or not to use, life prolonging procedures to keep you alive if you are terminally ill.”
Nicholas A. Dupre, J.D. -Board Certified Estate Planning and Probate - Texas Board of Legal Specialization with Knighton and Stone, PLLCh
In summary, everyone should have a Will, and two Power of Attorneys; one for legal/financial matters and one for medical issues. Additionally, you should have a Living Will or Advanced Care Directive.
At our leadership retreat last year, Carolyn invited Chanel Reynolds to speak. She has an amazing, young widow who lost her husband suddenly that has built a business around being prepared called GYST. I have found tremendously helpful. She offers lots of helpful info to get your affairs in order. It’s a free service with many valuable resources. I would recommend you start there. It will help you organize your next steps to the mental freedom that comes from having your legal matters taken care of. Plan to organize your legal affairs and commit to it with a friend. You will feel so relieved to have this off the list of things to get done!
Once you have our legal affairs in order, you can set that aside in your mind, and relax and enjoy your life. You will know that someone has all the information they need if something happens. You will be so grateful that you are taking care of business. It will give you peace to enjoy every second…#widowstrong
Natalie I. Lancaster is the Chapter Leader of the Modern Widows Club Houston and Northwest Houston/Katy Chapters*. She calls herself the “Southwest Regional Director for MWC – otherwise known as the Texas Tornado” and plans to promote chapters across the southwestern region of the United States. Additionally, she is the Innovative Change Leader of Lancaster Leadership, Inc., offering professional change leadership focusing on communication, consulting & training as well as personal development and transformation. She shares her insights on life and love after loss on eNJoyEvery2nd!
*Modern Widows Club Houston now has three chapter locations to serve our community widows. We meet in River Oaks, Memorial and the Woodlands. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Lancaster Leadership, Inc. offers innovative change solutions to help you and your business meet your communication, coaching & training needs. We also offer leadership development and personal transformation coaching for you and our staff.