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One subject we won't think about

Published April 27. 2013 09:03AM

My friend and newspaper columnist Linda Koehler wrote a column months ago where she mentioned a book called: "Estate Planning for People Who Aren't Going to Die."

To my way of thinking, that must mean just about everybody. Planning for our own death is something we avoid. Some act as if making estate plans means hastening death.

Too many of us avoid anything that smacks of our own demise. A favorite couple of mine had a running battle for years where he kept trying to get her to at least select cemetery lots and make burial plans.

With their kids scattered across the country, it would be a burden for them to be faced with burial decisions at a most traumatic time of time, he reasoned.

She wasn't buying it.

"I don't want to think about it and don't want to talk about it," she insisted.

Finally, he did it on his own, buying lots in a cemetery, getting a prepaid funeral plan and drawing up a will.

When he died a year later, she told me she was glad she didn't have to face those decisions on her own. "Now I know how important it is to loved ones to have it done ahead of time," she said.

Indeed, those who most understand the importance of final plans and estate planning are those who had to do it on their own after the death of a loved one.

I've had to make funeral arrangements far too many times for family members and I've had the gut-wrenching fallout from being the administrator of an estate when there was no will. So no one has to convince me of the importance of doing a will and leaving behind clear instructions about what I want done.

I would think most people would agree but I found out that wasn't true when I covered an estate planning seminar in my Florida town.

"How many people here already have a will and estate plan?" asked the presenter. I thought most hands would go up because the audience was comprised of older seniors.

Instead, only three out of 24 people attending said they had made a will and final plans of some sort.

The lawyer never asked why they didn't do it. He stressed that everyone needs a will, regardless of how much or how little they think they have. He then outlined major legal reasons why we need one. From my perspective, he skipped some reasons, too.

I've seen some families who fight and never speak to each other again because they had different expectations of what should happen after their parents' deaths. If the parents had left behind a will and burial directives, it would have eliminated at least some of the fights.

To be quite blunt, it also would help grieving adult children to not be fleeced while faced with the task of picking a casket.

I had the unfortunate experience of going with a relative so she wouldn't be alone when she had to pick out her mother's casket and make what they call "burial arrangements." Because she lived away for two decades, she had no knowledge of local funeral homes and her parents had done no planning.

"I'm sure you want the best for Mommy," said the funeral director as he showed her caskets. When he kept leading her to the most expensive caskets, I reminded my friend she was buying a casket, not a car. She was lured into the trap of trying to show love by spending money for an elaborate casket she could not afford.

It's not just wills and burial arrangements that should be done by each of us. Perhaps the most important thing for all is to make sure your beneficiaries are up to date on bank accounts, retirement accounts, and insurance policies.

I've lived through horror stories of my own and have seen others face unexpected, nasty complications because parents, relatives or partners never got around to making sure beneficiaries were up to date.

In one case, a relative's children got nothing while the hated ex-wife walked away with everything. That was all because the relative forgot to update the beneficiary of his insurance policy and 401k. The ex-wife, who was out of the picture for a decade, came back to gloat.

A very good friend of mine also suffered major consequences because her parents didn't leave behind a will. "I'll never get over it," she says.

But here's the incredible part. She and her husband have a complicated family situation of their own and they haven't made a will.

She's going to do it "someday," she says.

There is no day on the calendar called "Someday." All too often, we leave behind a big mess because we never got around to Someday.

Plus, we work too hard for our money to have it gobbled up by taxes and estate costs because we didn't take care of our estate planning.

One of the best things we can do for those we love is to take action now to save them some unnecessary grief later.

If you are among the 78 percent that haven't made final plans and haven't told loved ones what you want, there's an Internet site that can help. At you can do your own planning and forward the site to whomever will be carrying out your final wishes.

Or, watch for free estate planning seminars in your community.

It's time to put "Someday" on the calendar.

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