We at the Springer Law Firm encourage our clients to make plans to ensure the safe transfer of their assets at the time of death. Unfortunately, death comes to all of us, and it behooves us to make plans to properly care for our loved ones—it is a way of showing your family that you care when you make an estate plan. It is not just about the transfer of property, it also has to do with health care decisions and other issues that might come up at any time, and these things come up at times when we are not prepared for them. These documents prevent pain and stress at times of accidents, injuries, incapacity, and loss.
I was spending time with a friend of mine recently and she told me about her eighty-eight year old mother, Arlene. My friend’s dad had passed when her mom Arlene was just sixty years old. Arlene went through an appropriate period of mourning, and met a new man, George. Arlene and George had a wonderful relationship that spanned twenty-five years. Each of them was very independent and although they were committed to one another, George and Arlene never married and each maintained a home.
George went to Arlene’s house every day at about ten in the morning, and he went home to his house around ten each night. Arlene’s children considered him their dad, and the grandchildren considered George their Grandpa, and called him that. It was a close and loving relationship between Arlene and George and within Arlene’s family. George was part of every family birthday, graduation, every Easter, every Christmas, and every special day in between. George was part of Arlene’s family just the same as if he and Arlene were married.
The law of most states, including the law of the state of Texas, protects married couples with property rights. George had no children, and had he married Arlene, she would have been his sole heir at law. Without a marriage, if George wanted to take care of Arlene after his death, he would have to have a Last Will and Testament.
George and Arlene lived in Dallas, and they frequently visited Arlene’s family together, a large part of which lives in the greater Houston area. They planned on spending Memorial Day weekend in Houston with Arlene’s daughter’s family. George was driving the vehicle down I-45 when he suffered an aortic aneurysm. Arlene managed to help him steer the car to safety and George was whisked away to the hospital for emergency treatment. Unfortunately, George did not make it.
George’s real family was Arlene’s family, but this family that he was so much a part of and whom he loved and who loved him was not his biological family. None of Arlene’s family, and not even Arlene herself, was able to help with George’s medical decisions. George passed away, and with no next-of-kin to claim his body, he was placed in the morgue, pending location of blood relatives. After about a week, it was discovered that George had a half-brother Peter who was half George’s age and lived in Abilene. Peter and George had never met and had absolutely no relationship. Peter was George’s sole heir at law and the only relative with authority to make funeral arrangements.
Arlene’s family worked through Peter to arrange an appropriate memorial service for George and to make burial arrangements. The memorial service was attended by Arlene and her family. Although Peter was the only “real” relative, there was nothing he could say about his half-brother because he didn’t know him. Arlene’s children and grandchildren spoke at the services, remembering George with loving stories of their time together.
George left an estate in excess of a million dollars. Because George failed to make any estate plan, the true objects of his bounty, Arlene and her family, received nothing from him, and everything he owned on this earth passed to a man whom he had never met, by virtue of their blood tie.
Most families don’t suffer this kind of tragic circumstances when a loved one dies. The laws of intestacy usually protect families from situations like this where a complete stranger inherits all. In this situation, George allowed the State Legislature to write his will. This could have been avoided had he only visited with a lawyer and put down in writing what his wishes were.
The unfortunate path that took George’s assets away from his loved once and towards a stranger could have been avoided if he had the following documents in place before his death:
- Last Will and Testament – George could have made provisions for his assets to benefit Arlene, her children and grandchildren, the true objects of his bounty.
- Appointment of Agent for Disposition of Remains – George could have named Arlene and her other family members as his Agent and that would have prevented his remains languishing in the morgue until a “family member” was located.
- Medical Power of Attorney – Arlene could have made decisions for George about his health care after the aneurism.
- Power of Attorney – George could have appointed Arlene to be his agent in the event he ever became unable to handle his own affairs.
- Health Care Directive – George could have let Arlene and his physicians know in a written document signed in conjunction with his Medical Power of Attorney what his wishes were concerning life support and his end-of-life care.
- HIPAA Release – George could have allowed Arlene access to his medical records and health information if he had named her as an authorized agent on a HIPAA Release.
Making an estate plan is an act of love for your family. Put your wishes in writing today. We at the Springer Law Firm have experience with making plans of this type to protect your family. Give us a call today and set your affairs in order. You will be glad you did.