Death happens

By Dean Shipley

April 5, 2014

Television game shows of a bygone era gave contestants, who did not win the big prize, “lovely parting gifts.”

In death, there is parting. The person who dies parts company with family and loved ones who remain alive. Whether or not those left behind believe the deceased crossed over into an afterlife or “returned to dust” and that’s it, what is left behind is that person’s body and “estate.”

A death in this reporter’s family, my wife’s mother, brought to the fore the importance of planning for one’s own death.

We give gifts to our loved ones all of our lives. Why not leave them one more gift — that of planning for one’s death — as the most lovely parting gift.

“It’s a parting gift to a loved one,” said Tim Stonecipher, London attorney, whose specialty is estate planning. “The stress and trauma of death is enough without having to make decisions. It’s a decision that comes out of emotion and a short timetable.”

So the time to plan for one’s own death is now and remove from a survivor’s shoulder that burden of responsibility in time of loss.

For the actual arrangements for the person’s death and funeral — if one is to occur — can be recorded on a checklist, that need not be an “official” document. That means it does not have to be drawn up by an attorney and attested to by impartial witnesses. A funeral home would have such a list Stonecipher said.

That form should be filled out while the person can still make good, competent decisions.

Four other documents a person should have prepared while the person can make good, competent decisions, the will, the durable power of attorney, the Ohio medical power of attorney and living will.

Stonecipher called the will the “bedrock, the cornerstone” of a person’s life at death. The will will designate the person who will administer the estate known as the executor of the estate. It provides for the division of the person’s estate, be it real estate, securities, etc.

Stonecipher pointed out a will can be customized. He also said the person writing the will should take into account the abilities and situations of the children who may be named as heirs.

“A lot of families are not uniform,” Stonecipher said. “An heir may have a problem receiving money or may not be able to manage money.”

A person may write in their will to distribute assets “equally to my children,” but it begs the question, are they equally successful?

“It’s all right to treat them equally, but their needs may be different,” Stonecipher said. “A child having difficulty in the job market may need a special boost. You realize more of a need in particular children.”

Stonecipher said when a parent dies, reaction to the death “some children will land on their feet, survive and do well. Some children stumble and fall all of life. Out of a sense of love, you may take that into account.”

The second document a person should have is the durable financial power of attorney (POA).

Stonecipher said with men and women living longer and women usually outliving men by an average of four years (84.5 for women, 80.5 years for men), the POA becomes very important. It designates a person to take care of a person’s affairs should he/she become incapacitated. The POA becomes a powerful document to care for the affairs of someone without potential court intervention.

Durable is an important word because the durable POA remains in effect should the person become incapacitated in the future. A POA which is not durable will end if the person does become incapacitated.

Medical power of attorney

This document will take effect only if a person’s attending physician determines that a person’s ability to receive and evaluate information is impaired to such an extent that the person has lost the capacity to make informed health care decisions for him/herself. The designated agent can then begin making all physical and mental health care decisions for that person.

The agent will continue making all health care decisions for the person until my attending physician determines that I have regained the capacity to make those decisions for myself.

The Ohio Living Will is made to deal with a person who reaches the terminal phase of life. The person decides in advance whether to, or not, be placed and/or sustained on life support, thus eliminating a quandry among the persons loved ones.

“You put in writing in advance,” Stonecipher said. “It takes the pressure off the loved ones.”

If the two aforementioned documents are drawn up and in a person’s file, where other family members know to look, then it takes a lot of pressure off family members in that situation.

Stonecipher said the documents mentioned above help to organize a person’s life.

“The death rate is one hundred percent,” he said. “It’s a known event. Let’s deal with it.”

Because death can come at inconvenient hours, having all four documents in a file/binder can be handy when the relatives of the dying person lies unresponsive in a hospital bed.

“People realize how important it is when they’ve seen it in an emergency situation,” Stonecipher said.

Another end-of-life document is the trust, which is an option. Stonecipher said the trust is a better fit in certain situation better than a will. Those situations include:

• a blended family, where a husband and wife bring to their union children from previous marriages

• a family in which relationships are “non-harmonious”

• a family in which there is a child with a disability

Whether it’s a trust or a will is determined in the consultation with the attorney.

The documents are valid even if the person moves out of state.

Cost is discussed at the time of the consultation. Stonecipher declined to divulge his charge for drawing up the aforementioned documents. But he does make multiple copies to keep on file off site and to give to family members.

Dean Shipley can be reached at (740) 852-1616, ext. 17 or via Twitter @DeanAShipley.