I recently had the opportunity to attend a lecture by a colleague discussing the benefits of certain will clauses as illustrated by notable wills in the public record. At one point we were discussing spendthrift clauses, a common technique to withhold a benefit from someone whose creditors would just end up with it anyways, using an excerpt from the self-written will of President (and attorney) Thomas Jefferson:
“Considering the insolvent state of affairs of my friend & son in law Thomas Mann Randolph, and that what will remain of my property will be the only resource against the want in which his family would otherwise be left, it must be his wish, as it is my duty, to guard that resource against all liability for his debts, engagements or purposes whatsoever, and to preclude the rights, powers and authorities over it which might result to him by operation of law, and which might, independantly (sic) of his will, bring it within the power of his creditors. . .”
The attorney noted how beautifully written the prose of those days went, how lofty and eloquent it was. I noticed something very different, though, and very disturbing. I saw precatory language.
How a $75 piece of paper can save you a boatload of trouble.
I was recently hired by a gentleman who found himself in a difficult circumstance. Not all that long after he and his wife had cashed their first Social Security checks, his wife had begun to show signs of forgetfulness, and in the span of just a few months had descended into moderate dementia. I was consulted to help get her affairs in order while she was still able to participate in the process, and I recommended all of the things I would recommend to any senior: a Durable Power of Attorney, Appointment of Health Care Representative, Living Will, and Last Will, but I made one more suggestion that threw him for a bit of a loop:
I suggested that getting his own health care plans in order was more important.
That’s not to say that this was the more pressing issue, but a healthy spouse’s plan does have broader consequences than a sick one’s, and it’s not hard to see why. In my client’s case, once the wife becomes unable to manage her finances and care, everyone – the hospitals, the family and the courts – will be looking to him for answers, and he’s more than capable of giving them. Should the husband have an automobile accident, or a fall, or a serious illness, however, he’s asking for an express ride down the rabbit hole in the healthcare decision process.
With the House and Senate banging out the final version of the financial reform bill, it seems a fair guess that many people are wondering how the new law will affect their own investments, and that trustees are likewise concerned about what major consequences such sweeping legislation might have on the assets they are obligated to carefully manage. While a significant part of the bill is still up in the air, all possibilities seems to point to one answer:
None. Nada. Zilch.