Dealing with Death – The “D” Factor

The “D” Factor- Dealing with Death

It is almost the end of the workday and your phone rings. You see that it’s a client, so you answer. He has called already the office three times this week. This time he is wondering what to do with his deceased mother’s jewelry.

He breaks down emotionally and tells you that his siblings are upset and threatening him through phone calls. He misses his mother terribly and doesn’t know how to move on without her in the home they shared for many years.

Although his mother left all her personal property, including her jewelry, to her son as specified in her Will, he doesn’t want to keep it. You remind him that personal property is rightfully his per his mother’s wishes, as written in her Will, and that it is absolutely normal for him to be upset during this time as he grieves for his loss.Your client thanks you from the bottom of his heart. It is all in a day’s work for an estate planning and probate attorney and paralegal dealing with our client’s emotional ups and downs.

Where there is a Will, there is a war?

Taking the first step toward completing an estate plan is oftentimes postponed until a later date;or unfortunately, until eternity. Why, you may ask? What do you think is the most common reason many people postpone their estate plan? Is it because of the fear of the unknown? Or,maybe it’s because we are all too busy living our lives to the fullest to take the time to stop and think about our own morality? During the current times, with the pandemic of COVID-19 running rampant across the globe, we must remember the reality…death is inevitable. Yet, estate planning continues to be one of the least understood and most neglected areas of personal finance. Pursuant to a 2020 Estate Planning and Wills Study completed by Caring Home, estate
planning has become even less prevalent over the years regarding the number of adult Americans having a Will or other type of estate planning document declining by 25% since 2017. Some may say, “Where there is a will, there is a war!” On the contrary, billions of dollars pass through inheritances every year. A poorly planned transfer not only wastes time and money but also irrevocably hurts precious relationships in the end.

The Death Factor Card

For estate planning and probate attorneys and paralegals, the death factor card is the “Old Maid” card that is played and operated with day after day in our profession. Let’s imagine playing a card game. The very first card dealt for contemplation is…the death factor card. To begin the estate planning process, clients must envision the inevitable.

While the end of life cannot be avoided, it can certainly be planned for, and this is precisely what is conveyed to our clients. The estate planning process involves a lot of careful and considerate planning and preparation, including weighing all the available estate planning options and techniques, making difficult decisions for the benefit of loved ones, and adding a splash of creativity to create the original masterpiece that outlines the client’s final wishes…the estate planning documents, i.e. wills, revocable trusts, durable powers of attorney, living wills (often referred to as Health Care Directives) or beneficiary designation forms, just to name a few.

Many cards are interplayed at this point in the game and emotions run high, just as you would see in a Vegas high-stakes card game. Our clients experience these emotions during the estate planning process as they thoughtfully and steadily plan for their death. Picture in your mind what you would consider as today’s “model” family. Your portrayal of the modern family of the twenty-first century is quite distinct from our ancestor’s picture.

Today we see many second, third, or even fourth marriages taking place. Estate planning professionals must consider many options and take extra precautions to cover the common danger zones of these consecutive marriages, such as sibling rivalry, which often leads to estate battles. By taking the extra precautions in the estate planning process, these estate battles may be alleviated.

Clients who begin the estate planning process are forced with making difficult decisions and oftentimes struggle with  questions like “who should we name as Guardians of our children,” “is it okay to disinherit a child who has caused turmoil within the family over the years,” or “do I disinherit my spouse’s children from a previous marriage?” In fact, one of the most sensitive concerns in estate planning is providing for surviving children and/or grandchildren. Clients often brood over whether to make gifts to the children and whether to put the assets in a trust for the children rather than leaving everything to them outright.

Yet, once all the difficult and sensitive questions are made and the clients fully execute their estate planning documents, the awe-inspiring feelings of comfort and peacefulness engulfs the clients, time and time again.

Emotional Ties that Bind

The emotional ties that bind us in our relationships are ever present in our daily lives. The death factor card is dealt again at the end of the card game when a client passes away. At this point, the probate paralegal, working under the supervision of an attorney, works closely with the client, commonly a surviving spouse of the Decedent or another family member, in administering the “estate” of the Decedent. This involves carrying out the Decedent’s final wishes as declared in
the estate planning documents. The emotional ties that bind us during lifetime also endure beyond the grave. The prominent and emotional bind of this practice area is dealing with clients’ sad emotions, such as grief, sorrow, disappointment, suffering or regret (the key components of the death factor). The Kennedy way is treating clients with tact, empathy and compassion and by ensuring client confidentiality throughout the process from building the estate plan to administering the probate once the final death factor card has been dealt.