Estate Planning Myths, Tips, and More with Attorney Bobby Sawyer

This week's blog post is a very special Guest Post and interview with Attorney Robert "Bobby" Sawyer. The podcast is available for download from the iTunes StoreGoogle PlayStitcher Radio, and TuneInYou can also download this episode HERE.  

What’s the number 1 estate planning challenge for most of my clients? The answer depends on the client’s particular situation and stage in life.

Big picture – all of our estate planning goals can be summarized like this: first, we want to control what we have for as long as we are able; second, we want to make sure a trusted person is there to manage affairs when we become unable or pass away; third, we want to make sure our assets go to the right people; and finally, we want to do it as efficiently as possible and with as little government involvement as possible. When the government gets involved, it means taxes.

Where you are in life will dictate the details of each of those goals. For new parents or parents of minor children, the name of the game is making sure there will be a roof over the children’s heads, food on the table, and someone is going to take care of and love them as much as you do. Easier said than done, right? Here is a list of steps that will get the ball rolling.

If you’re on the other end of the spectrum – in retirement and enjoying the golden years of life – then your estate planning goals are drastically different. A big concern for you is how to handle the cost of long-term care. Depending on where you live and the level of care needed, the annual costs of long-term care could easily exceed $85,000. Without long-term care insurance, these costs could quickly eat through your retirement nest egg.

This list gives you some good steps to take in order to get a plan in place to help when a loved one becomes incapacitated.

To address the cost of long-term care, I generally recommend 2 things: a revocable living trust based plan and then a will that contains testamentary supplemental needs trust provisions. All this means is your will contains provisions to create a trust. The net effect of this is that between a husband and wife, when the first person passes away, a trust is created that has several protections and features that a standard revocable living trust does not.

There are several advantages to using a revocable living trust as the basis of your estate plan. One of the primary ones is avoiding the cost, time, and stress of the probate process

Bobby is a partner with the Law Office of Craig S. Johannesmeyer, PLLC, a Real Estate and Estate Planning Firm based in North & South Carolina. Bobby is a United States Army Veteran, an Auburn University graduate, and lives with his wife and three children in Belmont, North Carolina. To order a copy of the book Bobby discussed in the podcast episode click here The Generals by Thomas Ricks or on the link below (The show receives a portion of each purchase made through these affiliate links.)

Have a question you want answered? Send it to me HERE, and we'll answer your question on next week's show.

Click Here to schedule your free Estate Strategy Session with me and for weekly doses of actionable advice subscribe to the FutureSelf Estate Planning Podcast. You can also download our free Estate Planning manual 6 Things to Know Before Making a Will or Living Trust.

2 Comments

Robert Ingalls

I am the founding member of Ingalls Law, PLLC. My practice focuses primarily on Civil Litigation, Personal Injury, and Workers' Compensation. I graduated from East Carolina University with a Bachelor of Science, and received my law degree three years later. I have been admitted to the North Carolina State Bar and the United States District Court for the Western District of North Carolina. I represent clients in the areas of Civil Litigation, Workers' Compensation, Employment Discrimination, and Personal Injury. I have also represented employees and employers in hundreds of unemployment benefits hearings throughout North Carolina. In addition to my law practice, I am an active member of the North Carolina Bar Association, Mecklenburg County Bar Association, American Bar Association, Delta Theta Phi Law Fraternity, and The North Carolina Advocates for Justice.

This Is Who Controls Your Social Media Accounts When You're Gone.

Updated: November 11, 2016

Thanks to a technical glitch at Facebook today, millions of users were greeted with memorial banners at the top of their pages announcing their demise. Clearly you're very much alive, but this post will give you the skinny on how memorial pages work and what you can expect from Facebook when your time comes. 

I recently discovered a service cleverly named Eternime. Eternime boasts taglines such as "Who Wants to Live Forever?" and "Become Virtually Immortal." Eternime offers to preserve your digital identity so that your memory and legacy can live on, and potentially interact with future generations, forever. I expect this will eventually become known as the poor man's Technological Singularity. Think about that. Right now, Eternime believes that enough information about you exists online to fashion a virtual replica that could interact and answer questions. But, is that true? Is there enough information out there right now to start having conversations with yourself? 

 Introverts will never leave the house again. -   Tumblr

Introverts will never leave the house again. - Tumblr

Eternime collects your thoughts, stories and memories, curates them and creates an intelligent avatar that looks like you. This avatar will live forever and allow other people in the future to access your memories.

Let's take Facebook for example. Unequivocally the most popular social media platform, Facebook's highly personalized, intimate experience and perpetual addition of features attracts new users everyday.  Many new features are intended to supplant entire industries; a calculated move to keep users from ever leaving the platform. Users can now see current weather conditions right in their News Feed, keep track of daily events in their social circle, make telephone calls, send and receive money, send text messages, and request an Uber. From credit card information to decades of intimate conversations, the amount of personal information stored within the typical Facebook account is staggering and mildly terrifying. At this point, the idea of a stranger rummaging unattended in my house is less disconcerting than handing over unfettered access to my Facebook account. 

Delete my browser history ingalls law

This scenario brings up a number of interesting questions. What happens to our social media accounts, our digital identities, when we're gone? Who owns them? Who can legally control them? It turns out the answer varies by platform. If you're the kind of person that likes to do the heavy lifting themselves, here are the terms & conditions for the most popular social media platforms: Facebook, Instagram, SnapchatTwitter, Google, Youtube, PinterestLinkedIn, and Tumblr.

For the rest of you...

To ensure your wishes are legally memorialized, the first step is to add specific language to your will dictating how you would like your accounts to be handled. The best practice is to include all accounts you own in your will, from email and social media accounts to personal blogs. Like an executor of your tangible property, you can name a social media executor in your will to be responsible for carrying out your wishes for your digital identity. Be sure your will specifies that your social media executor be furnished a death certificate, as many platforms require such documentation.

FACEBOOK

As with all things social media, Facebook is leading the field in personalized legacy planning. The administrator of the deceased's online estate has two options.  First, they can opt to delete the user's account, sending the account to the digital-equivalent of the graveyard. This option will allow new registering users to claim the deleted account's username.

The second option for the administrator of the online estate is to turn the deceased user's account into a memorialized page. With this option anniversary reminders, birthday notifications, and friends you may know prompts will be disabled. And, unless the user added a Legacy Contact (discussed below), new friend requests will be disabled as well. Once memorialized, only friends of the account will be able to view the account's memorialized page, its prior posts, and pictures.

A feature unique to Facebook is the Legacy Contacts option. This allows a Facebook account holder to choose a Facebook contact to manage the profile upon the users death. Legacy Contacts are able to take basic actions such as pinning a post on your Timeline, responding to new friend requests, and updating your profile picture. However, Legacy Contacts cannot post to your page as you or access your messages. You also have the option to allow your Legacy Contact to download a full copy of the content you have shared on Facebook. This may include posts, photos, videos, and information from the About section of your profile. Creating a legacy contact is a relatively simple process:

Go to “Settings," then select “Security Tab." Once there, you will have the option to select your Legacy Contact. Watch my video on adding a Legacy Contact (iOS version HERE.)

If the account user fails to designate a legacy contact, a third party family member seeking to administer the account must send proof of death and proof of their relation to the deceased user to Facebook administrators. A copy of the death certificate is sufficient to establish proof of death, and a link to an online obituary may be acceptable proof to an administrator. Reasonable documentation to prove family relation to the deceased may also be necessary. Such documentation may include:

  • Birth certificates
  • Marriage licenses
  • Household documents such as bills and notarized documents
  • An obituary that names next of kin

INSTAGRAM

Facebook acquired Instagram in 2012, and since then the two social media sites have deployed similar terms when it comes to deceased account holders. However, the glaring difference is the absence of a Legacy Contact on Instagram. Like Facebook though, the same two options to administer the user's account are available: delete the account or request that the page be memorialized. To request that an account be memorialized a report can be filed HERE. To request that an account be deleted the deceased user's social media executor or family member must fill out This Form and upload the same acceptable documentation (birth certificates, marriage licenses, household documents such as bills, notarized documents, obituary naming next of kin) as well as proof of legal authority to Instagram administrators. This information can be accessed on the app by clicking on the gear symbol in your profile at the top right of the screen, then pressing the "Help Desk" tab, then typing in a search string such as “Death of an account user."

GOOGLE

Similar to Facebook, Google offers account holders the option to decide how they would prefer their accounts to be handled. Information on designating a third-party administrator can be found here. However, if the user elected not to define their wishes, family members are given three options:

First, with proper documentation, a family member or executor may have the account and all contents permanently deleted.

Second, a family member or executor can request access to an account. However, Google requires a court order before providing access to accounts. As a social media user, I appreciate this stance on the issue. The contents of your Google profile are likely to be highly sensitive and personal, perhaps more so than Facebook, due to Google's plethora of interrelated products. 

Third, a family member or executor may wish to retrieve funds from the user's account.  Like the second option, Google requires a court order proving the requesting party is entitled to receive the funds.

YOUTUBE

Google purchased YouTube in 2006, and since then users have been able to use YouTube with their Google account, without the need to log in separately. Although both sites appear to operate under one account, if you wish to delete a YouTube account it must done separately. Simply deleting the corresponding Google account will not delete the YouTube account.

Deleting the YouTube account of a deceased person is more complicated than the previous platforms. Without possessing the account login information, it is unlikely a family member will be able to have the account removed. You can find more information on YouTube's official support page. YouTube reserves the right to remove inactive accounts, but their methods of choosing which inactive channels and videos are removed seem arbitrary at best. 

TWITTER

Based on Twitter's policy, the need to remove an account should be as simple as waiting a few months. Twitter's terms and conditions state that any inactive account may be deleted after 6 months of inactivity. However, a quick search of accounts shows that Twitter doesn't proactively enforce that rule.

Per their policy, Twitter will not provide access to accounts, regardless of the relationship, absent a court order, or if public policy demands access on a case by case basis. However, Twitter will respond to requests to have accounts deactivated. To submit a request to have an account removed click HERE. After submitting a request, Twitter will send detailed instructions by email. Twitter recommends compiling the following information before proceeding:

  • The Username of the deceased user's account (@example)
  • A copy of the death certificate
  • Your first and last name
  • A copy of your driver's license
  • Your email address
  • Your contact information
  • Your relationship to the deceased user
  • The requested action (deactivate Twitter account)
  • A link or copy of the obituary

In certain instances, out of respect to family members, Twitter may remove images of the deceased user upon request. When determining whether information should be removed Twitter considers public interest factors, such as whether the information is news worthy or if the user was a celebrity. The same link above can be used to request the deletion of private information. Unlike Facebook, once a username has been claimed a new account can never use that name again. More information on requesting removal of a Twitter account can be found HERE.

PINTEREST

Absent a court order, Pinterest expressly forbids access by third parties to a deceased user's account. Pinterest does not allow accounts to ever be deleted, only deactivated. To request that an account be deactivated send an email to: care@pinterest.com   Include the following information in the request: Your full name, full name and email address of deceased user's account, a link to the Pinterest account (search under users), documentation of death such as a death certificate or obituary.  Finally, proof of relation is required.  Examples of documentation needed to establish relationships are: birth or marriage certificate, family and household records, notarized documents, and obituary listing next of kin. Pinterest will then deactivate the account and the account will never be accessible again. The user name of deactivated accounts will not be available to new users registering for an account. Learn more about deactivating a Pinterest account HERE. 

SNAPCHAT

Due to the fleeting nature of Snapchat, where images appear briefly and then disappear forever, Snapchat has chosen not to define clear guidelines for deleting the account of a deceased person. Currently no process exists to memorialize or request deletion of an account. If the family member or executor wishing to delete an account has an account themselves, they can email Snapchat in the help tab. However, Snapchat points out that administrators “may not be able to reply individually.”

If the family member or executor is not a Snapchat user, the only way to request that a third party's account be deleted is by clicking the “I Need Help” link.  From there, check the box that states “I have a safety concern, then click the “A Snapchat Account box.” Currently, the only option that resembles a third-party account deletion process is by checking the box that states, “I want to remove my child's account.” After requesting removal your child's account, there is an option to send a personal message to Snapchat administrators that the family member can use to explain the situation of a deceased user. 

Keep in mind, this process is not currently endorsed by Snapchat, but based on their terms, may be a viable workaround. Snapchat offers no guidance for the procedure in their terms and conditions or public policy. We reached out to Snapchat for a comment, but true to their word, they "may not be able to reply.”

LINKEDIN

LinkedIn, like most platforms, does not offer users the option to name an administrator of their account in the event of death. Unless removed the deceased's account will last in perpetuity. However, LinkedIn employs a rather straight-forward process to request that an account be deleted. To request that an account be deleted users should complete this Form. LinkedIn will then review the submission and contact the requesting party. LinkedIn recommends gathering the following information before proceeding: 

  • The member's name
  • The URL to their LinkedIn profile
  • Your relationship to them
  • Member's email address
  • Date they passed away
  • Link to obituary
  • Company they most recently worked at

More information on removing a deceased LinkedIn user's account.

TUMBLR

Tumblr does not currently have an option to name an account administrator in the event of death, and has not codified a process for the removal of a deceased user's blog. However, for a potential workaround, visit the Account Management page, click the Contact Us button at the bottom, and provide the details of your request. If you have tried this method please let us know how it worked out. If you think Tumblr should add his feature, you can also send a Feature Request through the Account Management page as well.

We'll continue to update this page as this information evolves.

At this point, I am on the waiting list for an Eternime account, but I'll keep you posted on the status of my virtual clone. In the meantime, you can send any questions or comments you have or Schedule your Estate Strategy Session with me. 

For weekly doses of actionable advice subscribe to the FutureSelf Estate Planning Podcast. And, you can download our free Estate Planning manual 6 Things to Know Before Making a Will or Living Trust

The book discussed in this podcast episode was Mindset by Dr. Carol Dweck. You can purchase the book HERE.

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Robert Ingalls

I am the founding member of Ingalls Law, PLLC. My practice focuses primarily on Civil Litigation, Personal Injury, and Workers' Compensation. I graduated from East Carolina University with a Bachelor of Science, and received my law degree three years later. I have been admitted to the North Carolina State Bar and the United States District Court for the Western District of North Carolina. I represent clients in the areas of Civil Litigation, Workers' Compensation, Employment Discrimination, and Personal Injury. I have also represented employees and employers in hundreds of unemployment benefits hearings throughout North Carolina. In addition to my law practice, I am an active member of the North Carolina Bar Association, Mecklenburg County Bar Association, American Bar Association, Delta Theta Phi Law Fraternity, and The North Carolina Advocates for Justice.

Her Father Died When She Was 4 Years Old. This Is How His Love Lived On.

 Grateful to have had a Dad who had a kind heart, loved beer, baseball, country music, his family, and my mama.

Grateful to have had a Dad who had a kind heart, loved beer, baseball, country music, his family, and my mama.

When I was still in diapers my Dad was diagnosed with a brain tumor-yes, cancer. One week before my 5th birthday he died. He was 43 years old. This was a terribly tragic moment in my life, but I'm not writing to make you feel sad or gain your sympathy. I'm writing to share my story of a beautiful, loving man and the sacrifices he made to ensure I could live a wonderful and full life. This is a story with a happy ending. 

It's been 32 years since my Dad left me, and not a day goes by that I don't think about him. I wish everyday that he was here to see the woman I have become, the life I have made for myself. I wish he could meet my husband, I wish he could laugh with my friends. As I write this, millions of families around the world are celebrating Father's Day. This has always been a difficult day for me, but this year has been particularly challenging. My husband and I have recently made the decision to start our own family, and the thought that my children will never know their Grandfather, will never know the strong, kind, gentle, and caring man that he was, hurts my heart.  

Estate Planning Guest Post Success Jenna Rush Ingalls Law

My Dad was born to be a family man. When I was born (surprise!) he had already raised three adult sons, and he thought changing diapers and chasing toddlers was behind him. He didn't miss a beat though. We were only together for a short time, but I have so many beautiful memories of him. From teaching me how to fish to chasing me around the yard, he was always a doting and attentive father. While grief is always a rollercoaster, with it's ups, downs, twists, and turns, one thought always brings me comfort in those moments, the person I am today is a direct result of how much he care about me.

After spending literally half of her life with my father (she married him at 17), his passing was extremely difficult for my Mother. The months and years after were a testing time in her life, sometimes even simple day-to-day routines were unbearable. I didn't know this until later in life, but my father had spent years planning for just such a moment. For all his strength, he understood the uncertainty of life all too well. And, the last thing he wanted was to leave his wife and child behind to fend for themselves in what can be a cruel world. My father's foresight and financial responsibility provided us the comfort and support he could no longer physically provide for us. Because of his careful attention we were always provided for and never felt the fear of financial instability. My Mom was able to stay home and raise me, as they had always planned for, we were able to move to a new home in a safe and quiet neighborhood, and I was able to attend a good school. I may have taken these things for granted at the time, but looking back, these were amazing advantages that few are afforded after such a tragedy. I have no doubt that my life would have turned out very differently had my mother had to immediately embark on a career, in the midst of the turmoil and grief, in order to put a roof over our heads and food on the table. Sadly, this kind of tragedy happens to families all over the world everyday. So, each day I am so thankful for not only the time I got to spend with my father, but for the planning, hard work, and dedication he put into making sure we were safe and provided for even in his absence.

 That fish was a lot bigger in person.

That fish was a lot bigger in person.

Thanks to my Dad making arrangement for the “just in case”, my childhood is filled with memories of my Mom picking me up from school everyday, baking cookies, and summers filled with travel and seeing new places. My childhood memories could have looked very different if my Dad had not put a plan in place to ensure that we were cared for when he was gone. He loved baseball and he sure knew how to prepare for a curveball. 

 One of our last pictures together...in front of the lilacs

One of our last pictures together...in front of the lilacs

Now, as I am preparing to start my own family, I have such a deep understanding and appreciation for the the benefits of planning for the future. I know most people have a very abstract understanding of the benefits of planning for a future that does not include them, but I can say from personal experience, it's one of the most beautiful, thoughtful, and kind things my Father did for us. And, I am committed to making sure my children will feel the same comfort and protection if one day I'm not there to give it to them. 

Jenna Rush is a writer, chef, Oncology Nurse Supervisor, adventurer, supermodel, aspiring horticulturist, and one hell of a wife. She lives in Charlotte, North Carolina with her devilishly handsome husband and their brood of four-legged children. 

Do you have a story of how Estate Planning made a positive difference in your life? We'd love to hear about it. The best entries will be considered for their own posts (stories will only be reproduced with your express consent.) Feel free to send your stories or questions to us HERE.

Probate Is Terrifying (Until You Find out What It Is)

With the rise in popularity of the Living Trust, a lot has been said recently on the topic of probate avoidance. So, what is probate? Does it matter? Should you fear it?

Probate is simply the public process of establishing the validity of a will before the court and settling the person’s estate. Probate is nothing to fear, but there are a few issues to consider when choosing an appropriate estate plan, and putting your estate through probate is among them. By the end of this post you will have a better understanding of the probate process, and the pros and cons of having your estate submitted to probate.

1. Public

Because wills are such a personal device, many people expect the probate process to be private. However, since wills are filed with the court, probated estates become a matter of public record. That means anyone can access the information. Outside basic privacy concerns, a public administration process opens your beneficiaries up to potential hassles from financial predators, charities, and will challengers. 

2. Time

While most people would prefer the settlement process to be completed ASAP, probate can take between 4 and 24 months (unless litigation is involved.) For some, this lengthy time delay can create financial and emotional stress. A few of the reasons probate takes so long include: 1) Paperwork. Lots of paperwork. 2) Complexity. Estates with numerous or complicated assets simply take longer to probate as there are more items to be accounted for and valued. 3) Probate Court Caseload, 4) Challenges to the Will. Heirs, beneficiaries, and those who thought they would be beneficiaries, can object to and challenge the will’s terms and legality. 5) Creditor Notification. A will’s executor must notify the decedent’s creditors so they have time to submit claims for debts.

3. Money

The bad news: probated estates are subject to a variety of costs from attorneys, executors, appraisers, accountants, courts, and state law. Depending on the probate's complexity, fees can run into tens of thousands of dollars. (Try our free Probate Calculator) The good news: probate costs are relatively minor in North Carolina for small estates and probate costs can be significantly reduced by avoiding probate altogether. Here are three simple ways to avoid significant probate costs: 1) Name a Beneficiary. A beneficiary is just a fancy name for the person designated to receive a stated benefit. Common assets that designate a beneficiary include: life insurance, annuities, and retirement plans. 2) Create a Revocable Living Trust. A revocable living trust owns your property, you remain in charge of all legal decisions until your death, and assets belonging to the trust are not subject to probate. 3) Own Property Jointly. Probate can be avoided if the property you own is held jointly with a right of survivorship.

So, what should you do? Sadly, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. But, there are a number of affordable and efficient options that can be customized to fit almost any set of circumstances. Click Here to schedule your Virtual Estate Strategy Session with me. Choose a day and time that works best for you, we'll send you an intake form, I'll contact you either by secure video portal or telephone, I provide a comprehensive overview of your options as well as answers to all your questions, then you choose the plan that works best for you. When it’s time to sign the documents we send the completed plan directly to your home or place of business, we review the plan together for accuracy, and then we make notaries and witnesses available at the location of your choosing to execute the plan. Easy peasy! As an added benefit, members of our Estate Maintenance Program have 24/7 access to their entire executed plan through our secure client portal, accessible through any device. Contact Me to learn more about our Estate Maintenance Program. 

Click Here for more estate planning advice, informational videos and articles, as well as a copy of my new Ebook Six Things to Know Before Making a Will or Living Trust (2016 Edition)

Comment

Robert Ingalls

I am the founding member of Ingalls Law, PLLC. My practice focuses primarily on Civil Litigation, Personal Injury, and Workers' Compensation. I graduated from East Carolina University with a Bachelor of Science, and received my law degree three years later. I have been admitted to the North Carolina State Bar and the United States District Court for the Western District of North Carolina. I represent clients in the areas of Civil Litigation, Workers' Compensation, Employment Discrimination, and Personal Injury. I have also represented employees and employers in hundreds of unemployment benefits hearings throughout North Carolina. In addition to my law practice, I am an active member of the North Carolina Bar Association, Mecklenburg County Bar Association, American Bar Association, Delta Theta Phi Law Fraternity, and The North Carolina Advocates for Justice.

Is Estate Planning for Me?

How To Start Estate Planning Family Ingalls Law

A few weeks ago I had lunch with a friend of mine. To protect the not-quite-innocent, let’s call him “Tom.” I have only seen Tom once since we left college, and that was several years ago. Through the power of social media, we recently realized we lived and worked less than twenty minutes from each other. We had been close friends in college, and though our lives are drastically different from the days of sleeping on old couches and cramming all night for finals, we picked up right where we left off. Tom has been married for eight years, and he has two boys, one five and the other two. Outside an extra pound or two around the waist and a hairline showing the very first signs of retreat, Tom looked as if he had barely aged a day. For a guy I once had to retrieve from an unsettled elderly neighbor’s couch at 5 a.m. because he couldn’t find his house, marriage and fatherhood seemed to suit him well. 

After a few minutes of catching up, we made our way to the inevitable question “so, what do you do?” Tom started with a finance company right out of college, and has worked his way up to a position where he can comfortably provide for his family. His wife works part time as an entrepreneur, allowing her to spend more time with their children. By all accounts, Tom is living the American dream. Tom has put together what he labeled as “a modest investment portfolio,” having invested in mutual funds, a business startup, and two recently purchased residential rental properties. 

When the conversation shifted to me, I told Tom that I work with families and business owners to create comprehensive estate plans to protect their assets and plan for their future. At that point, Tom pursed his lips and averted his gaze. Having seen this look before, I knew what was coming. Before I could say anything else, he said, in an almost ashamed tone, “my wife and I don’t have a will yet.” He then reluctantly glanced back up, as if he expected me to admonish him. This scenario plays out with startling frequency.

The moment I tell someone what I do for work, they either have questions about the current laws and how their plan will be affected, or they take on the persona of a child about to be scolded. More than once, simply telling someone what I do has impacted the social interaction in surprising ways. Why is that? Having taken three psychology classes in undergrad, I can say with (almost zero) professional certainty, that people know they need an estate plan, they’ve been procrastinating about it, and they’re embarrassed. I told Tom, as I often say in these situations, don’t be embarrassed, you’re not alone. 50% of adults in the United States do not have even a basic will. 50%. Let that sink in. Based on recent population estimates from the United States Census Bureau, that is roughly 122.5 million adults over the age of 18 that do not have a plan to deal with issues surrounding their own incapacity or death.

So, we know many people believe they should have an estate plan, yet 50% have not yet followed through on the plan. Why? To answer that, I’ll rely on my experience as an estate planning counselor (and those three psych classes.) For many it comes down to two words: fear & uncertainty. An amusing anecdote from Jerry Seinfeld is frequently quoted, “According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Death is number two. This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you're better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.” Fortunately, most people are rarely forced to speak in front of a crowd. However, when it comes to fear #2, Father Time is waiting on us all. This can be a sobering and unsettling thought, and perhaps depressing if dwelled upon. And, what’s the first thing you expect your estate planning attorney to ask? “Who do you want us to give your stuff to when you’re gone?” Now, not only are your forced to contemplate your own mortality, you have to decide who gets to ride your jet ski into the sunset while you're eternally left behind. See? Even with Seinfeld tucked inside, that was a depressing paragraph. 

Here’s a bright spot, estate plans can be every bit as important when you’re alive as when you’re…you know, that thing we just talked about. Comprehensive estate plans often include powers of attorney, living wills, and health care directives. And, it’s not all “pull the plug!” These documents designate someone you love and trust, rather than a perfect stranger, to make personal, financial, as well as health care decisions on your behalf and according to your wishes. These instruments can be vitally important whether you’re traveling the world or anesthetized on the operating table. 

Another phrase I hear from time to time is “why do I need a will if I don’t own anything?” That’s a fair question, and maybe you don’t need a will. However, it’s interesting how often “I don’t own anything” equates to: equity in a home, an automobile, household pets, jewelry, clothing, and/or retirement accounts. Everyone “owns” something (See: What Is a Will and What Does It Do?)

How To Start Estate Planning Ingalls Law

As for Tom, he knew he needed a will. His next question was, how do you know what type of estate plan to sell someone? I told him the same thing I tell everyone I counsel, I will never sell you a plan. Every client is unique, and I don’t mean that from a strictly financial perspective. Client’s values and beliefs are every bit as important to their estate planning objectives as their money is. That’s why we don’t market one-size-fits-all plans. There are plenty of places just a few clicks from here that will sell you a plan, and nothing else. Every plan I create is custom-tailored to achieve the goals and objectives of each client. Don’t worry, the process isn’t nearly as painful as you’re envisioning. First, we’ll have a detailed conversation about life, issues personally important to you and your family, and what your long-term objectives are. Next, we’ll discuss some tools that can help you accomplish those objectives. And, when we’re both satisfied that your plan will function as you intended, we get it signed and get you back to living your life.  As an added bonus, we offer members of our Estate Maintenance Program: 1) annual strategy sessions with me, 2) annual updates to your entire estate plan (as needed), 3) 24/7 access to your entire estate plan on any device through our secure client portal, and 4) access to a yearly comprehensive financial checkup with a financial advisor, accountant, insurance specialist, and mortgage broker. 

Do you have a will? I would love to hear about what brought you to that decision. Any other questions, ideas, suggestions, want to know what flavor of ice cream I prefer (mint chocolate chip all day), please leave me some feedback! If you know anyone that could benefit from some advice, feel free to share this with them as well. 

Click Here for more estate planning advice, informational videos and articles, as well as a copy of my new Ebook Six Things to Know Before Making a Will or Living Trust.

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Robert Ingalls

I am the founding member of Ingalls Law, PLLC. My practice focuses primarily on Civil Litigation, Personal Injury, and Workers' Compensation. I graduated from East Carolina University with a Bachelor of Science, and received my law degree three years later. I have been admitted to the North Carolina State Bar and the United States District Court for the Western District of North Carolina. I represent clients in the areas of Civil Litigation, Workers' Compensation, Employment Discrimination, and Personal Injury. I have also represented employees and employers in hundreds of unemployment benefits hearings throughout North Carolina. In addition to my law practice, I am an active member of the North Carolina Bar Association, Mecklenburg County Bar Association, American Bar Association, Delta Theta Phi Law Fraternity, and The North Carolina Advocates for Justice.