Grief Is Unpredictable

Grief Is Unpredictable

Have you seen the “revenge obituary” trending on social media? In the most recent example, a brother and sister reveal to the world that their late mother abandoned them as children to run off with her husband’s brother. Far from being overcome with grief, the adult children are very clear about their feelings. The obituary states:

An interesting detail is that they were raised by their grandparents. Which begs the question…why weren’t they raised by their father? Perhaps the sort of man who drove his wife into his brother’s arms was a less-than-stellar father as well? With all this scandal and drama in the family, the relatives of the recently deceased probably should have expected some sort of response outside the ordinary. It might even have been wise for Kathleen to write her own obituary and control the information it contained. If there is a bigger story here, lets hope one or both siblings writes a book and gains some perspective and possibly some income from the tragedy.

Yet even in families where everyone gets along, grief can still cause people to act in strange ways. The What’s Your Grief blog has an article on families fighting after a death that has generated 116 detailed comments (and counting); evidence that it has struck a nerve. It’s not surprising that death can bring out the worst in families. After all, the entire structure of the family changes each time one of its members passes away. And there is so much administrative hassle tied up in settling the deceased person’s affairs. With so much to do, and so many decisions to make, the chances are that someone in the family is going to act in a way others don’t like.

So what can you do to make grief easier for your loved ones? One of the best gifts you can give your family is a good plan. As the famous quote by Alan Lakein goes: “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” Putting together a complete estate plan, with documents that cover the distribution of your assets after you pass away as well as incapacity documents to assist managing your affairs while you are ill, achieves several good things.

Lessen Conflict

Most of the arguments center around family members who believe the deceased would “want things done a certain way” and others who believe the opposite. Stating your wishes clearly, and if possible, pre-paying and pre-planning your funeral and end of life care can alleviate the questions around what you prefer. Most children have personalities that are distinctly different from each other, and this can cause a parent to relate to them in different ways. So while one daughter may hear stories of her mother’s wild youth playing guitar in nightclubs, the other daughter may know more of her mother’s commitment to community service among disabled veterans. We are all complex individuals with many facets to our personalities. Don’t assume your children will agree on how to split your assets or honor your memory.

Write down what your wishes are so it’s not a subject of heated, emotional debate. Please, don’t forget your pets! While you may think your children or siblings would be happy to take your beloved cat or dog, they may find themselves unable to care for them properly. Or, even worse, more than one member may want the pets and fight over who has the right to take them home. Families can fight over the smallest items, so use the time you have to talk with your children and friends so you know how to prepare.

Ease the Administrative Burden

Having your assets organized and cataloged before you pass away will eliminate at least two very difficult steps of the process for your Personal Representative or Trustee. They will not need to search through your receipts and records to create an inventory, and they will not have to wonder about your Designated Beneficiaries or Payable Upon Death designations. This is one of the benefits of creating a living trust — since most of your assets will be titled to the trust, everything is all in one place. It’s not uncommon for an asset to turn up years after a person has died, especially in the case of oil wells, mineral rights, or peer-to-peer lending. A lifetime of investments without a paper trail could be a nightmare to track down, unless your Personal Representative particularly enjoys sleuthing.

Ease the Financial Burden

What’s Your Grief writes, “Whether it is scraping together money to pay for a funeral, or dividing up bank accounts and investments without a will for clear guidance, money can quickly become a sore spot.” Planning a funeral has been compared to planning a wedding, but with the added challenge of putting it all together quickly and while in a delicate emotional state. Those responsible persons who have prepared a will or trust and designated a Personal Representative can have everything paid for out of their estate, easing the financial burden on their extended family and allowing their loved ones to go through the work of handling their grief without added financial strain. We recommend pre-planning if possible, and can refer you to professional and compassionate business who specialize in guiding you through the process.

If you have a valuable collection or piece of art, be sure to have it appraised and the paperwork filed with your estate planning documents. There are countless stories of families who have sold a valuable item for a fraction of its worth because they were simply unaware it had monetary value. In addition, there are tax benefits you can take advantage of with the right kind of trust. Even separating out the assets you are giving to charity into a tax exempt charitable share can help.

Providing Flexibility

With the right person in charge and an estate sufficient to carry out your final wishes, even some of the most difficult situations can be managed. This example of a woman who wants to attend her aunt’s funeral, but is estranged from the aunt’s son, could be alleviated by several memorials. Perhaps the son would not want to deal with his cousin at the funeral itself, but would be open to her attending a memorial service held two months in the future. If there are clear-headed people and financial flexibility, the family can arrange for what all its members need to process their grief.

Ensuring Proper End of Life Care

If you read the comments on the What’s Your Grief blog article, the heart wrenching majority are from siblings who were either unable to help care for their parents, or shouldered that difficult experience all alone. An important part of any estate plan are the incapacity documents such as Medical Power of Attorney, Financial Power of Attorney, and Advance Directives. A Living Trust will provide further protection and guidance for the increasingly common situation where you are still alive, but temporarily unable to manage your affairs. As with all positions of responsibility, choosing the right person is key to seeing your wishes carried out properly. There are online resources, such as AgingCare, to help you think through the decision.

Of course, the best option is to work with a team of professionals to ensure you know your options. When you work with us, you can be confident we have listened carefully to your concerns and addressed them in our comprehensive estate planning documents. Give us a call to set up a consultation today!

Tienne McKenzie
Tienne McKenzie
tienne@themckenziefirm.com

Tienne is a paralegal specializing in estate planning.