By Phillip Addis —
“Family is a blessing. Just keep saying that when you are irritated by something a family member says.”
— Marcelina Hardy
Congratulations. You have made it through the family-filled holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas. You spent time with parents, siblings, children, grandchildren, spouses, in-laws, cousins, aunts, uncles, boyfriends, girlfriends and those people who are friends of someone, but no one is really sure who they are.
Hopefully, you better understand their quirks, temperaments and personality traits. All this bonding time has left you with a few nagging questions.
Am I really related to these people?
Can I trust these people to take care of me in an emergency?
Do I want these people raising my children if I die?
While discussing the newly-established Constitution, Ben Franklin once wrote, “… in this world, nothing can be said to be certain but death and taxes.” His commentary still rings true today, nearly 230 years later. Though it is a topic most people choose to avoid, all of us need to plan ahead for that all too certain inevitability (and we also need to pay our taxes each April).
This area of law goes by many names: estate planning, probate, or will and trusts. No matter the name, it all has the same goal—letting people know your final wishes.
For people with children, a will is a necessity. If you pass away and your children are minors, where do they go? What relative or friend have you decided will take care of them? Have you asked them if they are willing or even able to do this? What about education? If you have the ability to leave money or other assets for your children to help pay for their care or education, what are the guidelines for the use of that money? Who did you put in charge of the money? Is that person financially prudent?
Even if your children are not minors, you may still wish to create a trust or some method to guide (or control) how your gift is spent.
Do you own a business or other specialized assets or collectibles? How should those be handled? Is there a particular person who should receive the autographed Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers jerseys or have access to the family Green Bay Packers season tickets? Keep in mind, the Packers may have some thoughts of their own regarding those seats.
As we age, we also need to consider who will make medical decisions if, God forbid, we are unable to do so. What guidelines do you want to put in place for long-term or critical care?
If done properly, your will can serve as not only the dispersal of assets, but also as a statement of your last wishes. Are you interested in cremation, burial, donating your body to science, being shot into space or being cryogenically frozen? If you do not let someone know your wishes and your choices, you have unnecessarily placed a burden on your family and friends.
Our office—relying not only upon my own knowledge, but also that of many other affiliates and members of our firm—offers a full range of estate planning, probate and final wish planning for all types of family dynamics. Please feel free to contact us for an appointment.
Although, if you contact us shortly after forgetting a Valentine’s Day gift, there may be only so much we can do. Proper estate planning takes a decent amount of time, but if you gift that special someone a bottle of windshield-wiper fluid on Feb. 14, you may not have much time left. I should note, here, I do not handle divorces.
Phil Addis is an attorney in La Crosse and affiliated with the law firm of DeWitt, Ross & Stevens S.C. Phil never forgets Valentine’s Day.
504 Main Street, Suite 200
La Crosse, WI 54601