raising families and have commitments," says Wilson, whose specialty is estate planning."Clients will start to come in when kids are young, or before they have kids, with a real concernfor appointing guardians."Fairfield resident Jennifer Marco admits she doesnt know where to start or what she and heryoung family needs. A busy mom of two, weight management counselor and founder ofModernHealthConnections.com, Marco says shes too busy trying to keep everybody healthy tothink about what she needs to do in case she dies. "I know its something I need to do, but whatshould I be doing?" she says. "I guess its just a lack of knowledge on the process."YOU NEVER KNOWNo matter how you roll the dice, its a gamble without any estate planning. Because unlessyoure clairvoyant with special powers, you just dont know when something will happen. Noone ever plans to get hit by a truck, but it could happen. And it could happen tomorrow. Ifyouve ever had a brush with death, you know this couldnt be a truer reality. Its when you feellucky to be alive after youve totaled your car that you start going through the "what ifs." Whatwould happen to my home? My kids? And if that isnt enough to shock you into getting a will,consider this: If you die without one, the Connecticut state court will make those "what if"decisions for you.Under Connecticut state law, the property will first go to your spouse, then to your children,Wilson says. Your spouse gets $100,000 off the top, then half of whats left. The kids then splitthe remaining half. Out of that are paid any debts, taxes owed and burial fees.If you arent married and dont have kids or other relatives, the state can claim your assets foritself. Probably not the way anyone would want to go out, especially since we pay so much intaxes while we are living. Think about this: youve given so much of yourself to building yourlife, shouldnt you be the one to say what happens to it in death?DUCKS IN A ROWEstate planning is as much for life as it is for death. And organizing your life now can avoidheadaches later. Just ask Anne Mulligan, a freelance art director and Stratford resident. Herparents died when she was fairly young, teaching her the value of making a will. "Death is a factof life," she says. "The fact that I lost my parents made me realistic about things like this. Itseems like the people I know who are in denial about their own mortality are often those whostill have their parents and sometimes grandparents."Wills also are important for naming the people you want to inherit cherished personalbelongings. Mulligan and her husband dont have children but specifically named their niecesto receive her mothers jewelry. "A will means that there is no misunderstanding about whogets what," Mulligan says. "Ive seen families get into fights about inheritance, sometimes tothe point where they no longer speak." You can avoid that by telling people ahead of time ormaking it clear in your will.And once youve taken the time to draft the will, dont just put it in a box. Take it out every 18to 24 months, especially after a major life change such as getting remarried, a beneficiarysdeath or a new account opening.And keep in mind that laws change. Who will know that? Your attorney.MINOR CHILDRENA will is especially important when minor children are involved; its the best way to transferguardianship. You want to hand pick guardians and trustees to manage the property yourchildren stand to inherit. It could be two different people, an ideal situation according toWilson, who says doing both could be too much responsibility for one person. But think aboutthis: You dont want the guardian to argue with the trustee manager to get money to pay foruncovered health-care items. So talk to the people you are choosing. Talk about everything.
From a spiritual point of view "¦just the thought that God gave us this life, and we want toentrust these precious lives to someone who has the same values and beliefs and shares asimilar dream, is important," says the Rev. Raymond K. Petrucci of Saint Josephs Parish inDanbury and chaplain for Danbury Hospital. "Its our duty."If you dont leave a will, the court will appoint a guardian, and it could end up being someoneyou may not have chosen. Try conjuring up an image of family members fighting for yourchildren in court and the kids going to your least favorite person. Its heartbreaking. Of course,your appointed guardian is not a slam-dunk. The court will review to make sure the person hassince not become a convicted felon, but will take your wishes into serious consideration.Creating a trust, common in estate planning, can prevent minor children from inheritingmoney when they become legal adults at the ripe young age of 18. You dont want a childinheriting a large sum if they are not mature enough. Hello, Jimmy Choos and a new Lexus.Your daughter could end up the coolest kid in town, fashionably driving around in her collegeeducation. "Everyone is different and everyones children are different," Wilson says. "Have anadviser that listens to those concerns and tailors an arrangement that is customized to yourneeds."OF SOUND, MIND OR BODYWhat if something happens to you and you arent mentally able to tell people what you want?"It would be wise to consider all sorts of scenarios and come up with all sorts of protocols andeven acting on it before it should happen," Petrucci says. Other protocols to be considered areadvanced directives or a living will, where you specify the actions that should be taken if youbecome incapacitated; and a healthcare proxy or power of attorney, both of which appointsomeone you trust to make decisions for you, either medical or financial, while you areincapacitated. If you dont have advanced directives, in steps the state.Many of these documents and procedures can be downloaded off the Internet, but Wilsonstresses that when you do so, you wont get the knowledge and individualized attention of anexpert. "You need to be concerned about using a service (like that) because documents may ormay not be compliant with local law. This is something that has real consequence to it," shesays. "These decisions are going to be important for years to come¦" HLWhere theres a Will, theres a Way...Wills are essential because they allow you to control who will inherit your money and yourproperty, as well as who will care for your children after your death. If you dont leave a will, ajudge will make these decisions for you.A will is for:SPOUSES: So he or she is designated as the beneficiary of your property. You dont want yourspouse to have to jump through hoops in court to receive this money while the bills are pilingup.MINOR CHILDREN: So you can protect them from going to people you may not have chosenshould both parents die. Also, to protect them from receiving money at a young age (18) whenthey are not mature enough to handle it.ADULT CHILDREN: So you can make sure they receive the inheritance you intended for themat the age you feel is most appropriate.CHARITIES: So you can leave charitable gifts to organizations that are important to you.PROTECTION. So you can protect your money from going to the state. If you dont have a willand there is no living relative, all monies will be claimed by the state.Note: Life insurance policies, retirement plans (including IRAs and 401K and 403(b) plans),and payable-on-death and transfer-on-death investments are all contracts. The beneficiariesyou designate will inherit these assets directly (bypassing probate) regardless of what your will