Talking about death is not easy. Despite the fact that humans, by our very nature, expire, it is difficult to confront the idea that, someday, we will not be here with our loved ones. Or our loved ones will not be here with us. But it is a truly important conversation to have; our deaths are not an “if,” but a “when.”
Very often, our tendency to put off these conversations, even with ourselves, can cause unnecessary stress for those we leave behind. Over the course of the past week, I fielded a flurry of calls from individuals whose loved ones passed away without any Will or Living Trust in place. In one situation, the caller’s partner, with whom she had built a life over the past forty years, died without any estate planning in place. The couple had thought of themselves as spouses, yet because the couple was not legally married, the surviving partner had absolutely no legal rights at her partner’s death under Alaska Law.
Another caller, one of several children of the person who died, recounted a highly contentious situation where none of the children could agree on which of them should serve as Personal Representative (a/k/a “Executor”), let alone how to handle the assets of the estate. And in yet another call, I counseled the caller on the complicated formula by which property must be distributed under the Alaska Statutes because she and her husband had a blended family, and he had executed a Will before his death.
All of these cases were sticky for different reasons, and yet the underlying dilemma was the same: no estate planning. In each situation, had the person done a Will or Living Trust before they died, the process would have been more certain, less tumultuous, and almost undoubtedly less expensive. Perhaps the most surprising part about all of this is the frequency with which I have these conversations. Time and again, I find myself saying the same thing: “I am so sorry, the outcome would be completely different had your [mother/father/partner/spouse/sibling] done an estate plan.” It is heartbreaking, and distressing, but ultimately there is a way to prevent such a devastating outcome.
By doing a Will or Living Trust, you can make a roadmap for your family that ensures your wishes are followed and that everything is as certain as possible. If you have been considering doing your estate planning, but have been procrastinating a bit, please consider taking advantage of the Free Wills Clinic for senior (over age 60) and low-income Alaskans on December 8th, hosted by Alaska Legal Services Corporation (ALSC), in partnership with the Anchorage Library Foundation Next Chapter Society. If this is the nudge you needed, act quickly! Interested individuals must undergo the ALSC screening process no later than November 23, 2022.
Call 1-888-478-2572 to apply.
The Wills Clinic will offer simple, Will-based planning, along with assistance completing Powers of Attorney and Advance Health Care Directives from volunteer attorneys here in Anchorage. If you do not qualify for free legal assistance at the Wills Clinic, or if you do but have a higher net worth or more complicated situation, I recommend contacting a qualified estate planning attorney for some advice. I would say this, of course (I’m an estate planning lawyer), but working with an attorney who has expertise in this area really can make all the difference.
For those of you who are interested in learning more about estate planning, regardless of whether you would like assistance from a lawyer, I can highly recommend my law firm’s bi-monthly estate planning webinar that is free and open to the public. And while it is not legal advice, it is taught by an attorney who can answer questions and provide information on Wills, Trusts, Powers of Attorney, Health Care Directives, estate taxes, beneficiary designations, and a whole host of other important estate planning topics. If you are interested, I encourage you to register online at https://www.foleypearson.com/workshops-2/.
To conclude, although it may be a difficult conversation, I recommend you discuss your death with your friends and family and put an estate plan in place. Openly addressing this reality can do a lot to prepare your loved ones for the day that will eventually come, and good estate planning will make things infinitely easier for those you leave behind.
Chelsea Ray Riekkola, Shareholder of Foley & Pearson, P.C.