Thursday, September 1, 2011

Letting them go - loss of loved ones

We all face the loss of loved ones sometime in our lives. As inevitable as it is, there is one thing each individual can do to ease the pain of family loss. We can easily overlook appropriate planning of our estate for such a cessation of life in this world. For ourselves, we plan burial, funeral, trusts, and wills... all necessities. What happens to the things of our lives? Some people go to extreme detailed planning in their wills. Is that necessary or even beneficial? If you anticipate death in the next 10 years, you can do some things now to make it less painful and less work for your heirs.

Are you a packrat? My definition - one who can't let go of the past through possessions. As a child of a lost parent, you might think - keep it, I might need it or someone in the family might need want it in decades to come; the possession is something attached to my past. Keep it, we can't destroy memories! I say, oh yes, we can!  It is our duty to our family to assess what we have and plan our estate accordingly.

I confess. I have the tendency to keep things. My brother also has that tendency, but my sister holds on to practically nothing.  How about assessing family values to anything "worthy" of keeping or attaching real value to them? Then ... what to do with it? Put it under the bed? Rent a storage facility?

Shouldn't an estate sell what has real value and keep what has significant family value? That seems like the most practical thing to do, yet there remains a tendency to keep more than what is practical. Sentimental value is at least equal in importance to real dollar value.

Well then ... what to do? For one, make sure your family discusses what to keep in their possession. Estate planning without consulting the family is just an exercise in futility. Keep it flexible. Let the family make decisions after you pass, but establish what is really important to your family members in advance. A family reunion is a good place to start such a discussion. Keep your living and death wills flexible but with the essentials to pass along your valuable family heirlooms. Possessions have value in the hands of the holder and cannot be passed along successfully to future generations unless the recipients have memories in it. Otherwise, your possessions only have market value, not sentimental value. Establish sentimental value for a will, not dollar value. Establish values of artifacts of the estate in advance, but in general do not will things to individuals because of financial value. Let financial value be part of the estate value, but not a personal inheritance. Try to avoid arguments on who gets what, but at the same time, allow positive surprises among family members. Pass along things for sentimental rather than financial value. You will know what has sentimental value only by talking to your family. Don' t impose the rules; get agreement on the rules to pass things along by the will of those inheriting your possessions. You can assume that age and certain other parameters determine sentimental value. If you want something to remain in the family, make sure you get reasonable agreement with the family and find someone who will most likely succeed in keeping the item(s) in the family. Make those very important sentimental items part of your will, nothing more, unless you know of some conflict that must be resolved in advance through your declaration of will.

Sentimental value is established during your lifetime. If you have not told your family the history of your possessions, you have not established their value with them, and they will not likely remain in the family.

This is my personal perspective and opinion of value and effectiveness in keeping family heirlooms for future generations. Pieces of our lives are passed along and will be diluted from generation to generation.  Our heirs will assume the responsibility for passing along a heritage. Although nothing will last forever, hopefully memories and evidence of heredity will be retained in certain items for centuries. We must concentrate on a few of those items, and make sure they are included in our wills for safekeeping. Communicate your will in advance of your death. Get feedback whether positive or negative. We owe that to everyone in our collective families. Being charged with the safe keeping of family heirlooms is a large responsibility of ours, for our peers and future heritage. We must take care of them, for now and for the future. Sometimes a museum is the best choice, but most of the time, our children are tasked with their safe keeping for future generations. Agreements to care for certain things is important to at least some of our offspring. Heirlooms are not ours, but belong to the entire immediate family, extended family and/or sometimes even the community.

Estate Planning - to make it easier and quicker, you can choose to establish both an inheritance will and living will through standard forms and service providers available online in the internet. Family legal advisors are also personally available and useful to establish a sound strategy in estate planning. One thing I advise from personal experience is to make sure your will(s) are legally binding in the state in which you live. Dealing with a probate court in some counties of Texas is a big pain! If a will is not self-defining, you will likely be required to go to probate court, especially to resolve claims out of state. I have a provider in mind and will add to this later, as soon as I have results from that provider.