Life is filled with hopes and dreams, and people tend to think about what they want to accomplish as they grow older.
These accomplishments often include education, career and family goals. Because people are so focused on the present moment and the immediate future, many do not think about what is going to happen to the fruits of their hard work when they die. For many, planning for your death is something that you do when you are retired.
Consider the following story before you put off your estate planning any longer.
Last year, I was driving home to Eagle River from Fairbanks with my wife and elementary age children. We spent part of our winter break visiting the Santa Clause House. As many of you know, there is one road for most of the drive. At that time of year, the sun sets early and the mountains create an environment of isolation and darkness. We would pass an oncoming car every fifteen minutes or so. Often, the other drivers, who were also fighting the darkness and isolation, would leave their bright lights on, which would make it difficult to see as you passed them.
I specifically remember approaching an oncoming car with very bright lights. The lights caused my vision to blur, and for a few short seconds, I could see almost nothing. As my vision was coming back, my wife screams, “Moose, moose, moose”! From the corner of my eye, as my vision came to, I saw a very large moose trotting into my lane of traffic. I immediately swerved to the right and adjusted back onto the road as my car crossed the rumble strips on the highway. My car was traveling approximately fifty miles per hour. I just missed the moose, and I was very lucky that my car did not spin out of control on the icy winter road. Ten minutes later, I saw an ambulance coming my way with its lights flashing, and I remember thinking that somebody probably hit that moose.
That moose incident changed my life.
The moose probably would have killed my wife and me had my car hit it.
For the first time, I started to wonder what would happen to my children and property. Although my wife and I had a plan, we had nothing written down. Who was going to take my children? The plan is for my family to take the children, but my family lives in Minnesota. Who would take my children that night? Who was going to sell my house and watch over the proceeds from that sale until my children are old enough to receive a large sum of money? Just as importantly, who is going to bury my wife and me, and where would we be buried? My wife is from Norway, and I am from Minnesota. Who gets to choose where we are laid to rest?
The time to plan is now.
There is no better time than the present moment to make plans for your estate. In many cases, a properly drafted will can address all your concerns. A will is the simplest estate-planning document. In it, you can state your preferences for the care of your body when you pass. For example, do you prefer to be cremated or buried? Where would you like your ashes spread, or do you not have a preference? More importantly, does anybody know about your wishes? A properly drafted will gives you the ability to tell your executor what you would like to happen to your body when you pass away. Just as importantly, who has the authority to take control of your body when you pass away? Consider for a moment that your spouse is unable to accept your body. Who do you trust to “sign” for your body and handle it in accordance with your final wishes? Properly drafted estate planning documents can resolve many, if not all, of the above questions to give you peace of mind.
A properly drafted will ensures that your children are properly cared for. In it, you can designate a guardian for your children. Moreover, you can decide how old your children must be before they receive their inheritance from you. This could involve establishing a trustee to hold the property for your children until they are old enough to receive the property.
Another critical estate planning decision is picking an executor. An executor is the trusted person that will make sure that your desires, as stated in the will, are carried out. Finally, the largest part of the will designates to whom you would like to receive your property when you die. For most people, this will be your spouse, and if not your spouse, your children in equal shares. Consider for a moment that one of your children passes away before you. What would you like to happen to their share of the property? Should the property of the deceased child pass to your other children, or should it pass to the children, your grandchildren, of the deceased child?
In short, a will is the easiest and simplest legal solution to address many estate planning concerns.
Your plan is no good unless you have it written down in a legally executed will. Protect everything that you have worked your entire life for by drafting a will now. Doing so will place your mind at ease. The prudent approach is to seek qualified legal counsel that will listen to your concerns and provide the proper legal solutions to address those concerns.
Disclaimer: This column is for informational purposes only. It does not represent the views of the United States Air Force or the Department of Defense. Furthermore, it does not create an attorney-client relationship between the author and readers. This article is not intended to take the place of competent legal consultation with a licensed attorney.
Editor’s Note: Major Bradly Adam Carlson is an Assistant Staff Judge Advocate serving in the U.S. Air Force assigned to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska. He is licensed to practice law in both Alaska and Washington. Major Carlson routinely advises military members on a variety of legal issues including family law, landlord/tenant disputes, and estate planning. He also represents the United States in the prosecution of Air Force members in courts-martial. Major Carlson and his family live in Eagle River, Alaska.