BOH Makes Plans to Plan for Your Family

By Jack Gaffigan and Sandie Doptis
Badge of Honor Memorial Foundation

In our house, we have a file cabinet. The checking account statements and checks are in one drawer, the mortgage information is in another, and the year-end tax information is in a third drawer. Last year’s refinance on our house is in a notebook, and all the insurance policies are tucked away in a safe deposit box with the good jewelry, only I can’t remember which one because of bank mergers. There is a plastic file box with the wills, but I think I forgot to put it out for my son before I left on my trip.

Get the picture? Over the years, we have noticed that in most families, one person manages all of the financial issues, and usually that same person is the one who knows where everything is; knows the maintenance schedules for the home and even such mundane issues as the names and phone numbers of the doctor, the children’s orthodontist, the school phone numbers, the mechanic and a variety of other important information that makes a household run effortlessly. If something sudden and catastrophic happens to the family record keeper, would the surviving spouse or other family members know:

  • Where is the will?
  • Where is the trust document?
  • Where is the “living trust”?
  • Where is the Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care?
  • Where is the Durable General Power of Attorney for financial matters?
  • What benefits are due the family from an employer?
  • Where are the important documents; i.e., bank accounts, IRA, 401 (k)?
  • Where are the pension documents, military discharge documents, real estate documents, credit cards, homeowners, mortgage, life, auto, health insurance documents, tax returns?
  • Where is the individual’s Social Security information?
  • Where is the information regarding home warranty or maintenance, alarm system, safe combination, computer passwords, or service provider?
  • What are the funeral wishes of the deceased? Who did he/she want as pallbearers? Did the deceased want a funeral or a memorial service? Did they want entombment, interment, or cremation?
  • What did the deceased want done with his/her prized possessions?
  • Were there any other specific requests or information regarding your family?

As you can see, there are a lot of questions, and these bullet points only begin to scratch the surface of the number of questions that will arise with the sudden incapacitation, dementia or death of a spouse, parent, or other loved one. The first three items are the most important. Everyone should have either a will or a trust document. If you die without a will, the state that you reside in already has one made up for you under their laws of intestacy. This means that your estate will be divided under your states’ particular formula rather than how you would like your possessions divided and distributed. If a parent or a spouse is diagnosed with dementia, it is crucial that someone be able to step in and make decisions on their behalf.

The fourth bullet point is critical – especially for law enforcement officers. Under any circumstance, it is difficult to lose someone you love, but it is inevitable. It will happen to all of us. Unfortunately for those of us in the public safety sector, the unspeakable can happen in an instant. The sad statistics in the United States tell us that on average, a police officer is going to loose his life every other day somewhere in this country. A durable power of attorney for health care is important for everyone, but it should be mandatory for public safety professionals. This document simply gives someone you designate the authority to remove life support if death is imminent.

The best thing we can do is to be prepared. By taking the time to prepare a document that lists everything your spouse, partner, and family need to know, you are sparing them the added grief of having to track down information and documents during a period of extreme stress or mourning. This is an opportunity for all of your wishes to be known, as well as to provide information about the location of documents that will be needed by your family to settle your estate. It is also an opportunity for you to put everything in writing in one place so another family member can carry on, comfortable that they have all of the information that is needed.

As tough as it is to have this conversation with your spouse or children, it will be even harder but more urgent to have the same frank discussion with your parents about their wishes and the location of everything so that when the inevitable does happen, your remaining parent and siblings have a resource to help keep the family moving forward so they will be able to know and respect the final wishes of your parent. If the spouse who handled the bills and all of the family finances is the first to die, you will want the survivor to be able to take over. In the event that one or the other becomes incapacitated, you need to know if they have arranged for someone to step in to handle their financial affairs with a durable general power of attorney. In most states, guardianship or conservatorship proceedings are difficult and very costly.

Ask your parents what they wish to achieve with their estate. Maybe they want to leave a sum to their favorite charity or bequeath money directly to their grandchildren. If they do, the time to plan is now. Remember, if your parents move to a nursing home, most of the assets will have to be spent down before they are eligible for public assistance. Under today’s laws, Medicaid can go back five years to look for assets.

Above all else, when you are dealing with your parents, a few points to keep in mind are:

  • Keep the discussion focused on the issues
  • If you fail, try again. This is not easy
  • Limit the range of options from which to choose
  • Always attempt to preserve your parents’ dignity and self-respect

In order to facilitate the collection of all of the information needed for the surviving spouse and/or family to continue, we have developed the Family Assistance Guide. This Guide will become the source needed to access your financial accounts, computer files, Social Security information, and location of your wills, trust, and insurance documents. There is also a section for you to express your final wishes for funeral arrangements, disposition of prized possessions and any other final thought you may wish to convey to your family. Finally, there will also be a section for you to indicate your wishes regarding organ donation and the location of a signed living will.

One final thought. After you complete this document, make sure it is stored in a safe place. Tell the people who are named to be in charge how to access it. This Guide should be locked in a safe, safe deposit box or, if stored on your computer, the document should be password protected.

We encourage all of you to take the time, not only to get your financial and legal affairs in order but also to make sure your parents, adult children, and extended family members do the same.

The Family Assistance Planning Guide can be found HERE.