As the founder of Tomorrow, I've learned a lot about estate planning: what it is, why people avoid it (myself included), and how it can be done better and easier. But I'm here on the Tomorrow team because my personal experience led me here.
Time is elusive. It's both fast and slow. What I discovered recently is that the future happens now. No matter how much I thought I was prepared, I wasn't ready for the difficulty and loss of losing parents.
A Family Trust
My father and mother were the organized type, always planning for the future. They were the kind of parents who pre-bought headstones so I wouldn't have to concern myself with it, and set up a family revocable living trust and designated beneficiaries. It seemed as though they had thought of everything, so their assets would be evenly and efficiently distributed among each of their four children.
Shortly after my Dad died, my Mom also began to decline. Falls and memory loss quickly took her away from us. My sisters and I moved her from her big house far away to a smaller and more manageable home close to family. Unfortunately, what simplified our lives complicated the estate. We learned that when buying and selling assets, like the house, make sure the family trust retains ownership.
When we moved my mom from one house to another, it shifted property ownership. The old family house was listed in the family trust, but the new home was bought in my mother's name. This left her house, the estate's largest asset, at risk of probate and debate. To avoid this familial hassle and cost we quitclaim deeded the house and added it to the trust.
The Devil is in the Details
When I took control of the estate I found that even the “organized types” can forget things. After my Dad died, the assets and the estate unraveled. Amid my Mother's decline, I took over her finances and prepared for my role as trustee of the family trust. In this time I uncovered bits and pieces of policies and assets hidden and forgotten.
In an unassuming stack of papers I found an unknown life insurance policy. It was neither listed in the trust nor known or mentioned to family members. We were not alone, Consumer reports finds, "At least $1 billion in benefits from misplaced or forgotten life-insurance policies are waiting to be claimed by their owners." Governor Cuomo of New York set up new regulations that required life insurance companies to conduct mandated checks on unclaimed policies. This resulted in, 7,525 payments totaling $95.9 million to New Yorkers alone.
The idiom, the devil is in the details, is particularly true in estate and family planning. Mom and Dad had an A/B Trust, a trust that divides into two upon the death of the first spouse. Excellent job Mom and Dad! While the trust demonstrated thought and planning, the A/B portion was not put into play and thus the trust had to be restated. Details!
Each parent had made extensive arrangements for funeral expenses, yet there were still more expenses to be paid. After we notified the bank of my Mom's death all of her accounts were frozen and inaccessible. This created a financial vacuum where it became difficult to impossible to pay for the costs of the funeral and estate. Thankfully I had access to personal funds to float the estate throughout the funeral and settlement.
The junction of death and the legal process left me reeling. Juggling wills, trust funds, powers of attorney, lawyers and real estate juxtaposed with funerals and bereavement was the toughest experience of my life. Orphaned of parents and knee deep in due process, I struggled to find my way. I learned through trial and error.
I discovered that details and preparation are essential. Although not all paperwork is important, some paperwork is critical. Insurance policies fall into the important category and should be listed, alerted and transferred. I learned that legal paperwork, once completed, is not necessarily finished. It should be updated on a regular basis.
After the difficult and unexpected loss of my parents, I wanted to help others. In my quest to give back, I remembered my parents and their dutiful preparation and hard work. It was in my own family trust that my quest began, so I decided to help others as my parents had helped me.
I wanted to take the difficulty out of family trusts and wills while adding more connection and flexibility. My journey began in love for my parents and it sustains me in my work to help others be better prepared for the future. Tomorrow is about hope.
What began as an idea born out of hope and love has grown into a company, Tomorrow. I am so excited to share this app with people like me: families and individuals who want to live today to its fullest and still be ready for tomorrow, whenever it comes.
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