Bucket List for Seniors Before the End of 2016

“A man should not leave this earth with unfinished business.  He should live each day as if it was a pre-flight check.  He should ask each morning, am I prepared for lift-off?”  Diane Frolov and Andrew Scheider, Northern Exposure, All is Vanity, 1991.

According to the legal resource FindLaw.com, approximately 55% of American do not have a Last Will and Testament.  I respectfully suggest those 55% fall into one of three categories.  First, those who believe they lack sufficient assets to protect and secure for their loved ones; Second, those who fear tough decisions; and Third, those who lack sufficient knowledge of the process.  Regardless of your reason for not having a plan in place, this article focuses on those important topics seniors and their children and loved ones should address before the end of the year.

  1. Talk About Mortality with Family, Friends and Professionals

Sure, mortality conversations are difficult, but so are many topics in life that require deep conversation such as substance abuse, financial issues, marriage, children, and religion.  Like the others, conversations about mortality aren’t for the faint-of-heart but wise people address them and take care to secure good professional representation during the process.  I assure you the cost of professional counseling will almost always pay for itself in the end.

If you haven’t addressed this important topic, statistics indicate you are not alone.  Fewer than one-half of Americans have done so.  According to the Conversation Project, a group dedicated to helping people talk about their wishes for end-of-life care, out of the more than 2,000 Americans polled, they found that 90% say that talking with their loved ones about end-of-life care is important but only 27% have actually done so.  Of those polled by the Conversation Project and who responded they had not conducted the end-of-life conversation, 29% said they don’t need to worry about it yet; 23% said they aren’t sick yet; 21% percent felt uncomfortable addressing the issue; and 19% don’t want to upset their loved ones. Sadly, still others polled said they are waiting for someone else to initiate the conversation.

Even doctors who work with critically ill patients don’t always have these conversations with their patients.  According to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, of 603 critically ill patients polled, only 31% say their doctors discussed their wishes for end-of-life care.  Ironically, according to the same study, those patients who did discuss end-of-life care with their doctor experienced medical bills averaging 36% lower than those of other patients.

  1. Have a Professional Draft Wills, Living Wills and Powers of Attorney

The creation of a Last Will and Testament is terribly important.  Take a moment to inventory everything you own.  You’ll be surprised at your wealth.  If you die without a Last Will and Testament, the State of Missouri, by and through its intestacy succession laws found in the Missouri Probate Code will dictate who inherits your probate estate…all of it.  Let me state that another way…your spouse, children, parents, best friends and other loved ones will have little influence on how your valuable assets are divided if you do not have a Last Will and Testament or Trust in place when you die.  In general, without a Will, your property may be distributed using the following guidelines:

  1. If You Are a Deceased Person Survived by a Spouse and/or Descendants:
  2. Survived by a spouse and descendants, all of whom are descendants of the spouse– Your surviving spouse inherits the first $20,000 plus one-half (1/2) of the balance and your descendants inherit the remainder in equal shares.
  3. Survived by a spouse and descendants, some of whom are not the descendants of the surviving spouse– Your surviving spouse inherits one-half (1/2) of your probate estate and your descendants inherit the remaining one-half (1/2) in equal shares.
  4. Survived by a spouse and no descendants– Your surviving spouse inherits 100% of your probate estate.
  5. Survived by descendants and no spouse– Your descendants inherit 100% of your probate estate in equal shares.
  6. If You Are a Deceased Person NOT Survived by a Spouse or Descendants:
  7. Survived by one or both parents and one or more siblings– Your living parents and siblings inherit your probate estate in equal shares.
  8. Survived by siblings and no parents– Your siblings inherit 100% of your probate estate in equal shares.
  9. Not survived by parents, siblings or descendants of siblings– Your probate estate passes to grandparents, aunts or uncles, great uncles or aunts, cousins of any degree, or the children, parents, or siblings of a predeceased spouse.  If there are no family members, then your entire probate estate becomes the property of the State of Missouri and all friends and other associates are excluded.
  10. Manage Your Accounts and Create a List in One Central Location

Our lives are hectic and most Americans keep important information in their phone, a desk drawer or various other locations such as their office.  If you don’t know where to find all of your account information, it will be nearly impossible for your personal representative or loved ones to compile the list after you die.  Take time to create a list of all your bank and brokerage accounts, including your retirement accounts and pension plans.  Gather a copy of your home, auto, health and life insurance policies.  Centralize all of your professional contacts such as doctors, lawyers, accountants, insurance agents and financial services professionals.  Your loved ones and others will thank you and the process of protecting your assets will be streamlined.  Put it in a place that is safe yet accessible to family members and others you trust.  That rules out a safe-deposit box in that only those designated for entry may obtain access to those secure locations.

If you are a senior who manages computer-aided accounts and other electronic media, include your virtual assets on the aforementioned list.  In today’s world, most seniors keep a significant amount of information on computers and the web including, but not limited to, email accounts, photos, documents and other files and digital assets.  All of these important virtual assets could disappear if you don’t provide for their access if you are no longer around.

Todd Miller is the Senior Partner with the Law Office of Todd Miller, LLC in Jefferson City, Missouri www.toddmillerlaw.com (573) 634-2838.  Mr. Miller earned his juris doctorate from the University of Missouri School of Law in 1999.  Since 2010, he has been annually recognized as a Superb Attorney with a “10” rating by AVVO and he has received the Client Distinction Award by Lawyers.com.  He was recognized as Golf Tax Consultant of the Year by Boardroom Magazine three times and candidate for the “10 Best” attorneys for the State of Missouri by the American Institute of Family Law Attorneys and “10 Best” attorneys for the State of Missouri by the American Institute of Criminal Law Attorneys.  He writes and lectures on various legal topics and you may find him on Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, and Twitter.