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An Estate Planning Lesson from Roseanne Barr?

Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with the decision to cancel the Roseanne show following Roseann Barr’s racist tweet of last month, I think everyone can agree that her failure to be thoughtful about her actions led to her downfall and the downfall of her very successful show.  While there may be debate about the appropriateness of the punishment Roseanne received (too harsh? too light?), most people feel badly for Roseanne’s co-workers who will pay the price for her bad behavior by losing their jobs.  They are no doubt angry and feel betrayed by her. The same is true when it comes to estate planning strategies; we betray the ones we care about when fail to follow estate planning basics. Failure to act thoughtfully with respect to your estate plan can leave the people you love feeling angry and betrayed too.

In many ways, creating an estate plan is not something you do for yourself; it is something you do for the people you love. Setting up wills, trusts and estate plans are crucial for your legacy. If you become incapacitated because of an accident, a stroke or an illness and you have not created a Durable Power of Attorney and a Health Care Proxy, your family is going to have a difficult time helping you.  Without these basic estate planning documents no one, not even your spouse, has the legal authority to gain access to your assets or to make decisions about your care.  One or more family members may need to go to court to be appointed as your conservator and/or guardian so that bills can be paid, investments can be managed and proper care can be arranged.  This will cause your family members stress and take hours of their valuable time to do things that could have been avoided with some advance planning.

Likewise, if you die without a Will, it will be more difficult and expensive for your family to settle your estate.  Even worse, your estate may not be distributed in the way you thought it would or how you wanted.  These unintended consequences can leave bad feelings among survivors that can last for years.  Proper estate planning could also be considered good inheritance planning. It is not uncommon for clients to tell me how their parents failed to do any planning and as a result the house was lost to long-term care costs, or a second spouse ended up with the treasured family cottage, or there were tens of thousands of estate taxes payable that could have been avoided with a little bit of advance estate planning.

In my experience, no one wants to leave their family with a mess of complex estate planning issues.  Yet failing to act thoughtfully by creating an estate plan and keeping it updated often means a mess is what is left.  Roseanne’s action hurt many people – people she had no intention of hurting. Don’t let failing to plan leave your loved ones with the bad feelings that unintended consequences so often produce –and of course, think before you tweet!

June, 2018

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