Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

Editor: Gerry W. Beyer
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

A Member of the Law Professor Blogs Network

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Billionaire Spanish Duchess Leaves £2.2 Billion Estate to Children

WillThe funeral of the Duchess of Alba was attended by thousands including dignitaries, and members of the public filled the streets to watch her funeral procession. The Spanish Billionaire and direct royal descendent of King James II of England, died at 88-years-old due to pneumonia. The Duchess left her £2.2 billion estate to her six children. Each child is expected to receive a palace of their own. Her third husband Alfonso Diez, who is 24 years younger than the Duchess, was not included in her will and signed an agreement prior to the wedding that he would not receive any of her fortune. The agreement is believed to have been used to resolve a family feud over disapproval of the marriage.

See Ted Thornhill & Emma Glanfield, Duchess of Alba, Who Died Aged 88, Leaves Nothing to Her 64-Year-Old Toyboy While Her Six Children Get the £3 Billion Fortune, Daily Mail, Nov. 21, 2014.

Special thanks to Joel Dobris (Professor of Law, UC Davis School of Law) for bringing this article to my attention.

November 22, 2014 in Current Affairs, Current Events, Death Event Planning, Estate Planning - Generally, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Pre-Need Funeral Insurance

Funeral insurance

Although you might be trying to be financially responsible and have your “fiscal ducks in a row,” signing of for “pre-need” funeral insurance is not the way to go about it. 

Pre-need life insurance is an insurance policy whose benefits cover the cost of the predetermined expenses of a funeral, cremation or burial.  The expenses typically include standard funeral home services, funeral merchandise, church services and even burial services.  The purpose of this insurance is to set aside funds for your funeral, thus protecting your loved ones and your financial assets.

While this may like a good plan, there are downsides.  Pre-need funeral insurance costs a lot of money.  There are hidden fees, and your survivors could shell out a lot more cash when you die.  The plans are often nonrefundable, meaning you cannot change your mind or switch mortuaries. 

The New York State Funeral Directors Associate has criticized pre-need funeral insurance, stating that “There is great potential to do what is not best for the consumer because of the motivation to make commissions,” and “Preneed funeral insurance is sold in a way that leads our families to believe that it will completely pay all at-need costs even though that is rarely the case.”

Rather than getting pre-need funeral insurance, consider setting up a pre-need funeral trust.  This allows you to put money aside for funerals, and also offers advantages including portability, earned interest to aid with inflation, and no sales commissions. 

See Selena Maranjian, Think Twice About “Pre-Need” Funeral Insurance, The Motley Fool, Nov. 19, 2014. 

November 20, 2014 in Death Event Planning, Elder Law, Estate Planning - Generally, Trusts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Supplementing Your Will

Letter 2

When a loved one dies, families are consumed with grief.  Unfortunately, certain legal and organizational tasks should not be ignored or put off for long.  Yet you can ease the burden on your loved ones by making simple preparations in addition to a will. 

Consider augmenting your will with a letter of instruction, which is an informal document that you can draft yourself.  Unlike a will, the letter of instruction is not legally binding, but it can be helpful for your family in your absence, and can provide more detail than a customary will.  It might be best to organize your letter into three sections: funeral arrangements, financial and personal affairs, and distribution of personal effects. 

In the section covering funeral arrangements, include a list of people to notify upon your death, and include their contact information.  Also specify your wishes as to organ or tissue donation, burial method, and details about your funeral service. 

Make sure to list all financial accounts, including retirement accounts, stockholdings, pension and credit cards.  Provide contact information for your account beneficiaries so that your executor can easily contact them. 

Finally, you are able to go into greater detail in terms of allocating your possessions.  Here is where you can specify who gets what.  You can even write individual notes to family members in addition to the general document. 

See Lindsay Gellman, When a Will Is Not Enough, The Wall Street Journal, Nov. 15, 2014.

Special thanks to Brian Cohan (Attorney at Law, Law Offices of Brian J. Cohan, P.C.) for bringing this article to my attention.

November 16, 2014 in Death Event Planning, Elder Law, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Wills | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Woman Mistakenly Declared Dead Wakes Up in Cold Storage

HearseAfter the family of 91-year-old Janina Kolkiewicz called her doctor because they believed she had stopped breathing, the doctor went to the woman's home in Poland and declared her dead. Kolkiewicz was transported to a funeral home and her family began planning her funeral, but 11 hours later Kolkiewicz woke up in cold storage. She is now home with her family. The doctor has said that she checked for signs of life and found none before making the call and signing the death certificate. The Lublin Prosecutor's Office is investigating the incident and the doctor's actions.

See Ralph Ellis, Declared Dead, 91-Year-Old Woman Wakes Up 11 Hours Later in Funeral Home, CNN, Nov. 14, 2014.

Special thanks to Professor Adam Hirsch (University of San Diego) for bringing this article to my attention.

November 16, 2014 in Current Affairs, Current Events, Death Event Planning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, November 14, 2014

Consumer Advocates Question Burial Insurance

CemeteryBurial Insurance can be an attractive option for individuals concerned with how the cost of their funeral and related expenses will affect their family. Policies often are available fairly easily online or by phone and do not require medical examinations. Additionally, their face value cost seem relatively low. However, consumer advocates are expressing concerns that these policies target less-educated and low-income individuals, and while burial insurance policies seem beneficial they are actually less valuable then other options, such as life insurance, savings accounts, or pre-package service plans.

See Ronnie Sandroff, Burial Insurance Vs. Life Insurance, Investopedia, Nov. 13, 2014.

November 14, 2014 in Death Event Planning, Estate Planning - Generally, Non-Probate Assets | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Assisted Dying Bill Gaining Traction in UK

LawCurrently Lord Falconer's bill is before the House of Lords, which would change assisted dying laws in the United Kingdom to allow terminally ill patients to gain medical assistance to end their life if they are determined to have the required mental capacity and will die naturally within six months.

Recent events have made passage of changes to the assisted dying laws more likely. A recent amendment to the bill puts assisted death applications under judicial oversight. In addition, Dr. Kailash Chand, Deputy chair of British Medical Association, expressed his support for the bill and that he believes the term "dying with dignity" rather than  assisted dying should be used. Chand spoke in his personal rather than professional capacity, and also said that the change will come within the next two years.

See, Jamie Doward, Assisted Dying Will be Made Legal in UK 'Within Two Years', The Guardian, Nov. 8, 2014.

November 12, 2014 in Death Event Planning, Estate Planning - Generally, New Legislation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, November 10, 2014

Passing Peacefully

End of life scene

Paul Scheier knew exactly how he wanted to die long before it happened: at home, with his wife and children.  Last July, that is exactly how it occurred.  After succumbing to lung cancer, the retired dentist from Orchard Park, New York passed away in his bedroom with Lorraine, his wife of 62 years, and their four grown children. 

Unlike many Americans who pass away in the clinical, often chaotic atmosphere of a hospital, Paul died peacefully at home.  A recent Consumer Reports survey of 2,015 adults suggests that Americans would prefer to die at home.  However, good death can be difficult to achieve.  According to a report from the Institute of Medicine, the U.S. healthcare system is poorly designed to deal with end-of-life concerns, particularly when it comes to considering the wishes of terminal patients. 

This is why Americans must think about end-of-life concerns before a crisis arrives.  This should start with a conversation with your family about the care you want during your final months and days.  It should involve creating a living will and you should appoint a health care proxy. 

Families should also consider hospice and palliative care programs.  Six months after he learned his cancer had returned, Paul entered a hospice program in Buffalo.  Paul was grateful to lean that Medicare covered his hospice expenses and his wife would not be left with financial burdens.  “We always complain about government programs, but this one is just so wonderful.  The hospice workers walked into our home and became part of our family and we know they’re going to take care of us until my last breath,” said Paul. 

See A Beautiful Death, Consumer Reports, 2014. 

November 10, 2014 in Death Event Planning, Disability Planning - Health Care, Elder Law, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, November 3, 2014

Death With Dignity Advocate Passes Away

FlowersAs I have previously discussed, after receiving the prognosis from doctors that she had terminal brain cancer and approximately six months to live, 29-year-old Brittany Maynard made the choice to move to Oregon and obtain medication to end her life. Maynard became well known as a ‘death with dignity’ advocate.

On Saturday, Maynard took the medication and passed away surrounded by her loved ones in Portland, Oregon. Maynard left a final note expressing her appreciation to her supporters and wishing them peace and love. Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act allowed for Maynard to make her decision and obtain the medication. A YouTube video released early last month that explains Maynard’s story from her perspective can be viewed here.

See Catherine E. Shoichet, Brittany Maynard, Advocate for ‘Death with Dignity’ Dies, CNN, Nov. 3, 2014.

Special thanks to Professor Adam Hirsch (University of San Diego) for bringing this article to my attention. 

November 3, 2014 in Current Affairs, Current Events, Death Event Planning, Estate Planning - Generally | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Cemeteries Moving Upward

CemeteryAround the world, in densely populated cities and countries, the availability of land is diminishing and cemeteries are reaching capacity. In Beirut, Lebanon, the unavailability of burial plots has resulted in multiple family members being buried in a single grave. In Mexico City, remains are cycled in graves and years after a burial the remains are exhume to make room. To address this land scarcity problem, a trend is being seen of cemeteries built up instead of out. The Memorial Necropole Ecumenica in Brazil stands 32 stories tall and is currently the tallest cemetery. In Israel, the country's government has implemented a plan to address land shortages and a recently built concrete vertical cemetery is intended to address the problem.

See Associated Press, Raising the Dead: Lack of Space Forces Cemeteries Skywards, NBC News, Oct. 17, 2014.

October 28, 2014 in Current Affairs, Current Events, Death Event Planning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Community Memorial Services

CandleFunerals and memorial services are a popular way in our culture to say good bye to departed loved ones and begin the process of continuing life without them. Some hospitals and hospice facilities also offer community memorial services as well. These services pay respects to multiple deceased individuals at once. While for many of the families attending, a memorial service or funeral has already been held, these community events allow individuals to come together in an additional service that provides community support and reflects on the affect of the passing of many individuals, including those who may not be known to attendees. For some, this creates a feeling of community and comfort.

See Amy Ziettlow, The Sacred Work of Community Memorial Services, Patheos, Oct. 16, 2014.

October 25, 2014 in Death Event Planning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)