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Be Brave, Face Reality, and Make and Estate Plan

Dear Mr. Premack: I think that my family is fairly typical. My wife and I have lived in San Antonio with our two children for about three years. Our jobs are very likely to relocate us in the next two or three years. We make a good living. We bought a house (which we’ll sell when we move, and hopefully make a gain). Our kids are younger than 10. We just keep delaying doing our estate planning, figuring that we’ll finally settle down somewhere and make Wills then. We don’t want to have to keep changing them every time we move to a different city, so to avoid the expense we just avoid seeing a lawyer. Now my brother is telling me that it is crazy to wait. So here is what I want to know: is there any kind of estate plan that we can have now which will still be good if we have to relocate? Thanks. J.D.

You and a lot of other people think that an estate plan is just an expensive, unnecessary complication to your lives. That is inexperience speaking, and is very unwise thinking. You also don’t want to spend your money or your efforts by starting over each time you move. That is experience speaking, so long as you take action to find useful solutions.

I note that you purchased a house when you moved to San Antonio. You had to make a significant investment of time to select a neighborhood and a floor plan that would suit your family’s needs. You had to make your down payment, pay your realtor, start your mortgage and move your belongings. You may have made a down payment of more than ten percent and paid substantial fees before you had the keys in hand. But you saw the immediate need for a home and were willing to make the investment.

What your brother sees, and what you have not seen, due to a fortunate lack of bad experiences, is the need to invest in a legal estate plan to protect your family, your home and your finances. Your brother understands the need, but you may be emotionally blocking yourself from thinking about the possible catastrophes that make estate planning so very valuable. Let’s open that door and take a hard look at reality.

Scenario: You and your wife go out to dinner, leaving the kids with a sitter. On the way home there is a car accident. Your wife is killed and you are in the hospital and rehab for three months. Your mortgage must be paid. Who has authority to make the payment? While you are unconscious, treatment decisions must be made. Who has authority to make the decisions? Your kids need to be guarded and nurtured. Who has authority to care for them? What if you had both died? Where would the kids live? Who would raise them, teach them your values and pay for their educations?

Scenario: You have pain in your gut, and finally visit the doctor. The terrible news is that you have cancer, and in a few weeks you have died. Your wife needs to sell the house and move closer to her parents. Does she have authority to sell? How does a possible buyer know what to do when he realizes one of the owners is deceased? Your wife needs access to money from your IRA, but you did not designate a beneficiary. How can she get the company to open the account?

A professionally written estate plan would answer all of those questions and more. Before you can seek answers, you must be brave enough to face the worst possible scenarios that might happen. Plan for them. Think about your preferences, and then get professional legal help to create a binding estate plan.

You ask, “Is there any kind of estate plan that we can have now which will still be good if we have to relocate?” While everyone’s needs are different, a Certified Elder Law Attorney knows various legal tools that can address that, and many other requirements you have not mentioned. I’ll continue this answer next week with a look at some specific ideas for people who, like yourself, need to maintain their mobility in order to earn a living.

Paul Premack is a Certified Elder Law Attorney and a Five Star Wealth Manager (Texas Monthly Magazine 2009-2012) practicing estate planning and probate law in San Antonio.

Original Publication: February 8, 2013


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