Our firm and many others have published articles discussing what to do when someone dies and, in the following months, we will issue a supplement for the steps to take after death. However, the primary focus of this article is to build upon those discussions by adding a precursory consideration when anticipating death. Each of us, at some point in our lives will witness the final and fleeting days of someone we love. We watch those who were once our strongest role models and confidants wither and weaken to desperate states. Suddenly, our mothers, fathers, and grandparents are called “wards” or deemed incompetent. It is a difficult, albeit inevitable, process.
As we prepare for that inevitable, there are a few key steps that can help us avoid being blindsided. First, initiate estate planning discussions with your loved ones. It can be an uncomfortable conversation because it implies awareness of the fact that they may be running on borrowed time but avoiding that discomfort risks arriving at the end of life unprepared. Most people take solace in knowing their family is cared for after they depart but are hesitant to take the first step, so it is important for you, as their family and friends, to breach that topic. Encourage them to contact an estate planning attorney for a consultation. If a will, trust, or beneficiary designations exist, make the effort to locate and consolidate them so you do not need to scramble later. Understand how assets are titled as title will control, irrespective of what a will says. If the house is held in joint tenancy, understand that the surviving joint tenants will take possession of the decedent’s portion. Similarly, transfer-on-death or pay-on-death designations on bank accounts will govern who receives these funds and can be a helpful tool in avoiding probate.
Next, with elderly or incapacitated individuals, it is important to monitor both physical and mental health. Attend regular doctors’ visits with your family and obtain written instructions from physicians to ensure proper care. Do not be afraid to seek guidance or even professional intervention. Many individuals fear guardianships and conservatorships as an impediment to their independence and autonomy. However, these roles are in place to protect them and ensure they are not burdened with the thoughts of finding long-term care as dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease take full effect. A guardianship does not need to be a confrontational prospect. Additionally, it is not a burden people need to carry alone. Our firm regularly works with highly experienced, talented, and compassionate professionals who are willing and able to serve as guardians and conservators to offer the same degree of care and respect that you would offer your family.
When the end looks like it is just around the corner, that is when immobility and fear are the strongest. People want to deny what is quickly approaching. However, I encourage you to take that time to reflect on the next steps. For religious individuals, it may be important to contact clergy for the administration of a final blessing or last rites. Help your loved ones make peace with this process because they are probably just as scared as you, if not more. While ensuring you are taking time to comfort your ailing family members, take some time to research probate attorneys and find a firm you trust and with whom you are comfortable. Find someone with a heart, who is not jaded or callous when discussing these sensitive matters. Rather than wait until after death, when you are mourning, planning a funeral, and frantic during your most vulnerable period, it is best to know you have an attorney on standby who is familiar with the situation and ready to assist you. We often have people contact us to let us know their parents or grandparents are nearing their final days and want to get probate process is under control before it begins so they can focus on more important things.
Once a person passes away, whether you think you are prepared or not (and no one ever is), take the time to mourn. No one should be in a rush to distribute assets or get legal paperwork started. In fact, the Colorado Probate Code does not allow us to begin the probate process until 5 days after death. So, spend time with your family, cherish memories, and begin funeral preparations. If you were able to contact a probate attorney earlier, take comfort in knowing they will be ready to handle the next steps for you. If you were not able to reach out before your family member passed, know that there are attorneys available with decades of experience who can assist you in wrapping up the final affairs.
Evans Case is passionate about assisting families throughout this entire process. We have experts in Estate Planning, Guardianship or Conservatorship, and Probate administration. We offer compassionate care and effective results from beginning to end. Call us today for your free consultation. 303-757-8300.