SHOULD WE EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED . . . And (really) Plan For It?

May 19, 2016

Early Sunday morning, as I drove to my wife's favored latte' purveyor, I was stunned by the contrast of large snowflakes cascading to the verdant May turf.  It really was a beautiful combination of green and white (or maybe I'm just partial to those colors)!  What struck me though, as I entered the café, was the buzz among the customers about how crazy it was that it was snowing on May 15th.  C'mon folks, it's Michigan!  Is snow in mid-May really that unexpected?

I spent all of last week at two conferences dedicated to the enlightenment of estate planning professionals and heard so many horror stories along the way about families who failed to plan for what might seem to most as unexpected events.  We heard about families who, through the provisions in their Will and beneficiary designations, entrusted the distribution of all of their assets to their son in hopes that he would then pass them on to his siblings.  Well, not long after the second parent passed away, the son's wife filed for divorce and he soon defaulted on the mortgage to his home.  All of this resulted in both his now ex-wife and the bank gaining access to the family inheritance.

Next, we heard about the mom who left her home to all of the kids equally.  The problem was, she had one child who had substance abuse problems, nowhere to live, and no money, another who was very sentimental, but unable to contribute to the ongoing expenses and upkeep of the home, and another who was rather successful and very responsible.  When mom died, the problem child moved in to the house, but paid no rent; the daughter wouldn't agree to selling the home, but didn't contribute to paying the taxes, insurance, and upkeep on the property; and, the responsible one ended up either paying all of these expenses or risk foreclosure.  Certainly not what mom had in mind when she did her estate planning!

The list goes on and on. Obviously, Prince didn't expect to die at 58.  I didn't expect my mom to contract Alzheimer's disease.  We don't expect to break both legs in car accident.  Worse yet, we don't expect ourselves, or one of our loved ones, to be permanently incapacitated in a car accident.  We don't expect our well-raised children to blow their inheritance overnight because they have a gambling problem.  We don't expect our sister-in-law, who we left a large sum of money to take care of our children, to have her paper boy slip and fall in her driveway and, because she was negligent (and underinsured), is sued for all she has.  But these things are happening around us all of the time!  Just like snow in May! 

Scenarios such as these, and others, presenting situations and circumstances that occur frequently enough to be "expected," are often considered "unexpected." However, these are all contingencies that an experienced estate planning attorney can help you to anticipate and prepare for.  By bringing the family together to answer some oftentimes "hard" questions to discern who they desire to act (and what actions they will authorize that person to make) in times of incapacity, how they want to distribute hard-earned assets upon their death, what potential risks exist based on the answers to those questions, and designing a "holistic plan," employing insurance and tax professionals, financial planners, and others is what sets an estate planning attorney apart.  Building a holistic estate plan takes much of the guesswork out of life's "what ifs" and creates peace of mind when, as expected, the unexpected happens to you.

And, what about when the "expected" happens?!  Did you know that between 60-70% of Americans don't have a will!  And, I've got news for you folks . . . last I checked, most of us are going to die someday!