List of Things to Do

Written by Michael Baron on . Posted in General Estate Planning, Planning Documents

Dear Michael:

Recently, we have been considering all of the things we have to do before our deaths. My husband is in poor health and there are a lot of things we have yet to do – although for us – we’re not sure of all of those things. Can you give us a quick rundown of items we should check and recheck prior to our health changing for the worse? – Need a List.

Dear Need a List: What an excellent timely question!

You need your basic documents brought up to date:

Your will should be updated to reflect your current desires and wishes for the disposition of your property. If your estate is in excess of $5,340,000, you’ll need to make certain you talk to an attorney now to set up either a disclaimer will or to make certain you claim the first decedent’s Unified Exemption ($5,340,000) by filing an estate tax refund. Even if your estate is at three and a half to five million, make certain you file for this exemption – due within nine months from the date of death – to claim this unused portion.

Your property may not be worth more than $5,340,000 now, but if land and other assets continue to climb, you may find yourself kicking yourself for not applying for this unused exemption. For those more than the $5,340,000 this is simply mandatory to have this done.

You should review your powers of attorney. There are two specific types to review.

One would be the durable power of attorney. This document gives financial powers to someone you trust to handle financial affairs for you. This may be as mundane as paying your heat and lights or as important as selling your farm to pay for medical bills that arise in the future. It’s better to have two people on this document, because with one, you’re always going to have fights about why this one child is running the show, and if you put more than two on there, it’s going to cause problems getting anything done when it has to come up to a vote every time a bill needs to be paid.

Second, you should have a power of attorney for health care. This document gives power to someone you trust – normally your spouse with one of the children as secondary – to make medical decisions for you if you cannot make them for yourself. The secondary POA should be someone who is geographically close to you so they can attend doctor’s consultations in order to make good, sound health decisions for you.

Many people feel like they have this covered with a ‘living will’. However, that is not the case as a ‘living will’ is an entirely different document than a POA for Health Care. The ‘living will’ is another document that expresses your desires and wishes as to how to extend your life – or to not extend it, as the case may be. This document tells both your POA and your physicians how to treat you should you be terminally ill. These things would be the withdrawal of water, or feeding, or machinery necessary to support your life. A new addition in recent years is the verbiage ‘I wish to receive pain medication – even if it should hasten my death – if my body appears to be in pain’. Most people don’t have this in their old living wills.

Last but not least, sit down with your children and have a talk with them about who you put in charge of what and why, and how you expect things to go when you die. You save your children so much grief with one another later if you tell them face to face, amongst all of them, how you want things to be.

I also want to express the grief I feel for the loss of one of my longest tenured friends and clients – Kaye Heffta – who died this past Sunday.

Kaye was many things – a wife, a mother, a grandmother and great grandmother. Just as importantly, she had literally hundreds of ‘dear friends’. Kaye had all these friends because she always gave of herself and never asked anything in return. She never asked for pity with her long illness and stood proud until the moment of her death. If the rest of us were able to give ten percent of what Kaye gave to all the people around her, we would live in a perfect world. I was a recipient of Kaye’s generosity and I will miss her dearly.

“Keeping the Family Farm in the Family”
Great Plains Diversified Services, Inc. 
1424 W. Century Ave., Suite 208
Bismarck, ND 58503-0917 
Telephone: 701-255-4079
Fax: 701-255-6106 
Toll Free: 1-800-373-4078

Michael Baron is not an attorney. Information given through written, verbal, or electronic means by Michael Baron or Great Plains Diversified Services, Inc. is not to be construed as legal advice. An attorney, tax advisor, or other registered advisor is needed for the completion of the estate planning process. An attorney must be consulted for legal advice and the drafting of legal documents.