Gather Information Before You Need It!

When faced with a medical crisis, no one wants to look for insurance cards, estate planning documents, or phone numbers; our focus needs to be on our loved one in need.

Therefore, it is never too early to make a list of all the information you may need should a crisis arise, and make sure it is easily available. This rule should be in place for you and your parents.

When making your list, include at a minimum the following:

  • Copies of the front and back of insurance cards, prescription cards, and IDs (driver’s license, military ID, etc.)
  • The names and contact information for doctors and specialists
  • Basic medical history, such as medical conditions, previous surgeries, allergies
  • A current list of medications with dosages and frequency they are taken (e.g. once a day)
  • The location of estate planning documents, including Living Will, health care and financial Powers of Attorney
  • A listing of financial accounts and safe deposit boxes, and institutions where they’re held

For your parents’ information, ask them with whom they want you to share this information, as they may not want everyone in the family to have this private, sensitive information. However, it should be available to more than one person, in case that one person is not immediately available when a crisis hits.

Then, make sure the designated people have copies of the information, or know where to get hold of it quickly, and they understand its purpose.

And of course, keep the list up to date!  

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What Happens To My Estate Assets When I Die?

Many people wrongly believe that if they die without a Will, then the state gets to keep their estate assets. Although that is not true, without a Will the state does decide who gets your estate assets.

There are a series of laws in Pennsylvania which determine the order of intestate succession (“intestate” simply means “dying without a Will”). There are special rules for how much a spouse inherits if there is no Will, which is dependent on whether or not there are children, and if they are children of the surviving spouse. (It should be noted that a spouse can also elect a portion of his or her deceased spouse’s estate even if the deceased person disinherited the spouse, but those rules are unique to spouses, and do not apply to other beneficiaries.)

However, children have no automatic right in the law to inherit from their parent; thus, although one cannot totally disinherit a spouse, one can disinherit a child or grandchild if circumstances warrant it, but only if one has a Will which does so.

In the event that one dies without a Will, the state’s rulebook for who inherits after a surviving spouse is, in this order: Issue (children, grandchildren, etc.) of the decedent; then the decedent’s parents; then the decedent’s siblings or their issue (nieces, nephews, great-nieces, great-nephews, etc.); the decedent’s grandparents; then the decedent’s uncles, aunts, and their children and grandchildren; and, finally, and only if none of those relatives can be found, the assets go to the state. The law also outlines somewhat complex rules on how the estate is divided within each of those groups, and circumstances in which certain of those parties can be excluded by law from inheriting.  

How do you avoid your estate assets being distributed to people whom you may not want to receive them? Simple – have a Will; that way you control who gets your “stuff”. The law states that the intestate rules only apply if the deceased person had no Will, or if an asset was not disposed of by the Will.

If one has a Will, then his or her assets go to those named in the Will.

It is important to note that these rules only apply to assets which pass through a person’s estate, which are known as “probate assets”. As a generalization, probate assets are assets which the deceased owned in whole or in part in his or her own name. They do not include assets for which one is a joint owner with another, or for which one has designated a beneficiary, such as life insurance, certain types of investment assets, IRAs, 401(k)s, and other qualified retirement plans.

Those all pass to the named beneficiaries; because they are not probate assets, they are not subject to intestate succession.

What is the lesson to be learned? Make a Will, and keep it current, and make sure you have named beneficiaries where appropriate!

Once you have a Will in place, or have named beneficiaries, review those periodically to assure that they reflect your current wishes. That way, you are always sure that, when your time comes to pass on, your hard-earned assets will only go to those whom you want to receive them.

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Finding Inner Peace

“It isn’t enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it. One must work at it.” Eleanor Roosevelt

Inner peace refers to a state of being mentally and spiritually at peace, with enough knowledge and understanding to keep oneself strong in the face of discord or stress. Being “at peace” is considered by many to be healthy, and the opposite of being stressed or anxious.

Each of us strives for peace in our own way. What is peaceful for one person may be stressful for another. This point is illustrated by the following story:

“There once was a king who offered a prize to the artist who would paint the best picture of peace.

Many artists tried. The king looked at all the pictures. But there were only two he really liked, and he had to choose between them.

“One picture was of a calm lake. The lake was a perfect mirror for peaceful towering mountains all around it. Overhead was a blue sky full of fluffy white clouds. All who saw this picture thought that it was a perfect picture of peace.

“The other picture had mountains, too. But these were rugged and bare. Above was an angry sky, from which rain fell and in which lightning played. Down the side of the mountain tumbled a foaming waterfall. This did not look peaceful at all.

“But when the king looked closely, he saw a tiny bush growing in a crack in the wall. In the bush, a mother bird had built her nest. There, in the middle of the rush of angry water, sat the mother bird on the nest – in perfect peace.

“The king chose the second picture.” Author unknown

Lasting inner peace isn’t something that just randomly happens to us. And it doesn’t always look like we think it should. It is something we need to work at and often create. We need to choose peace, because it may not choose us.

I wish you peace in all you do.   

 “Your inner peace is the greatest and most valuable treasure that you can discover.” Akin Olokun

Portions of this blog are adapted from a blog by Chris Cade.com.

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