One of the exhilarating yet downright scary parts of life is the reality that we can only plan and control our lives to a certain extent. If you are anything like me, then you enjoy fun as much as anyone, but you also like to be able to exert some degree of control over your situation. Whether it is control over where you work, what you eat for breakfast, or what activities you enjoy on a vacation, control is important to be able to focus our energies on what matters most to us. Being intentional about our activities is a natural outgrowth of this desire for control.
If the pandemic taught us anything it should have been that our concept of control and autonomy over our situations is at best an illusion much of the time. Whether we have a concept or a belief in a higher power or not, the fact is that there are forces upon us that exist in our world which are beyond our control as human beings. An old saying that many of us are probably familiar with goes something like this: “If you want to hear God laugh, just tell Him your plans.” Whether we want to go out for dinner tonight doesn’t exactly factor into the equation when a global pandemic springs up. For that matter, neither does our desire or ability to provide for our families.
This discussion dovetails nicely into the tragedy associated with the submersible which went missing in late June 2023 in search of the wreckage of the Titanic. The tour organizer is a company called OceanGate Expeditions- whose CEO was onboard the vessel when it suffered what is being called a catastrophic implosion in the words of the United States Coast Guard. There were additional crew and tourists on board who were there to view the wreckage and remains of the Titanic in the North Atlantic Ocean. This was a remotely operated submersible- not a submarine that could be operated by the crew onboard the vessel.
Obviously, in a situation like this the first thought that we have as fellow human beings is the tragedy of lives lost in extreme circumstances. While adventure tourism is not anything new, the degree to which some people feel the need to push the limits of their sense of safety to experience something memorable is noteworthy. While we may never know the extent of the issues of this submersible vessel, what we do know is that lives were tragically lost in the aftermath of this significant and deadly mishap. Immediately your heart has to go out to the friends and families of those lost.
Beyond the human tragedy involved here, there are both long- and short-term consequences for the people’s families who are now left sorting out what to do next after this event occurred. While the thought of something going wrong was likely weighing on each of their family members upon learning about the type of trip these folks would be taking, undoubtedly each of them was hoping and praying for a safe return trip home. Now that we know what happened these families are in a position where they are going to have to determine the type of planning each of these adults undertook before boarding this submersible.
You would think that each of them would understand the tremendous risk that they were undertaking in going to the bottom of the ocean in a vessel that was not exactly well-tested and safety-conscious. This was much more of an experimental trip than a tried-and-true method to engage in adventure tourism. As a result, the people involved in the voyage may have had an inkling to begin preparing their estate in case the worst happened. Whether you engage in estate planning based on something completely predictable or based on something that may be impossible to predict, the net result of your efforts should be to put your family in a better position than it was before having your estate plan.
This is the real message that we are going to focus on today. Nobility, it is said, means to plant a tree the shade of which you will never be able to enjoy. A lot of people in my time with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan have asked me if only rich people do financial or estate planning. Surely, these people will reason, it is only those who have a lot of money who need to take the time to plan their estate. This could not be further from the truth. While it is true that the people who died in this accident at the bottom of the ocean were wealthy, that does not mean that you or I can afford to ignore this lesson for us. Plan now while you still can- because the future is not guaranteed.
This is what we are going to cover in today’s blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Estate planning figures into the story of these individuals who passed away inside that submersible, but it is not mentioned in any of these news stories which you can read. There are catchier, headline-grabbing elements to this story than whether each of these folks had a will or any kind of estate plan in place. However, for our purposes, this is a relevant consideration to have. Not because we can change the past and cause each person to make better decisions with their money. Rather, we can take something from this situation, prepare better ourselves and benefit our children as a result. Let's go with that mindset as we discuss a tragic situation and how estate planning figures prominently in it as far as the peace of mind for each person's family is concerned.
The will: a basic and extremely functional estate planning tool
When we talk about estate planning, many people's eyes glaze over out of boredom. This is not an exciting part of the law and will not be a headline grabber, as we have already discussed. However, it is an important part of the law when we discuss what matters most to each of us. Namely, what happens between the four walls of our home can be impacted by the decisions that we choose to make while we have the opportunity. Do not leave anything to chance and do not put off until tomorrow what can be done today. Consider our thesis statement and let's move on to talk about estate planning for parents of young children.
For one, parents of young children must think seriously about their kids and how they will be provided for in the event something unforeseen occurs to them. You and your spouse pride yourselves on being able to care for your children. You love your children and show that love every day as far as how treat them and what sort of effort you expend for them. However, while you are planning meals and figuring out how you are going to pay for another year of school it would be sensible to also consider how you can care for them should something happen to you and your spouse. What is the plan for caring for your children after you pass away but the children are still minors?
That is where a will comes into play. Again, a will does not need to be something fancy, overly complex, or lengthy. A will is not something for rich people or poor people or any specific kind of person. A will is for everyone. A will can help your family avoid a lot of uncomfortable and unfortunate circumstances should something happen to you and/or your spouse which causes you to lose to life (s). It's not realistic to think that either of you is going to pass away because of a tragedy involving a submersible. This process of creating an estate plan does not need to be exciting- and it probably won’t be. However, it is necessary, and it can be a beneficial thing for you and your spouse to do together. Starting with how your children are going to be cared for after you pass away.
If you pass away but your spouse is still alive then she would care for the children. The same is true if she passes away and you are still alive. Nothing would change in that scenario except you or your spouse would no longer be with us and you would lose their income in terms of how to best care for the children. This is where the planning comes into play. First, it is a good idea for you and your spouse to both have life insurance. This is true whether you or your spouse both work outside the home or if only one of you earns an income while the other cares for the home and children.
You can talk to your financial advisor or do some research on your own to determine what kind of life insurance makes the most sense for you and your family. However, a simple type of life insurance plan is known as term life insurance. Term life insurance involves you paying a premium each year for a specific amount of money that will be paid to your beneficiary (named in the policy) if you pass away. There are conditions for the manner of death, etc. for most policies. Depending upon your age and health condition you may need to undergo a physical or have some bloodwork done to get approved. However, the net result is that you can put your family in a better financial position if you get this life insurance situated while you are still able to do so.
Life insurance is tricky because you may not always be able to qualify for the policy which pays the most money and is the least expensive. For example, if you develop a chronic condition then you may not be able to be insurable for life insurance. This would mean that you would either have to pay an exorbitant about of money to get a life insurance policy or that you would not be able to qualify at all. This is an undesirable situation for you to be in but would be especially undesirable for your children and spouse. Start doing the research now or look up a reputable life insurance broker. Someone who can search through a range of different policies and can find you the best price for you and your family.
Once you have life insurance in place you can rest easier knowing that your spouse and your children could be cared for financially after you pass away. Imagine this- you go through the effort to obtain life insurance while you can. Tragedy then strikes and your family loses you and your income. However, the life insurance pay-out allows your spouse to be able to pay bills, pay off your home mortgage, and set money aside for emergencies and the kids' college funds. This is far from an ideal situation for your family but it sure beats one where that money is not available. Your wife having to scramble to work multiple jobs or putting bills on credit cards just to make ends meet does not have the be the future for your family. Life insurance is an estate planning tool that is reasonable in cost and can have a potentially large benefit.
Power of attorney
Let’s imagine that the situation with the people in the submersible turned out differently. Instead of dying under the ocean’s surface, several of them suffered injuries or were otherwise incapacitated. This just means that the people did not die but are not able to care for themselves or make decisions regarding their finances or health care decisions. In a situation like that, a spouse would likely be able to step in and make decisions but what if that were not possible? Imagine a situation where the person could have been rescued off the submersible and was then taken to a hospital in the United States for additional medical care. If he or she was unconscious and could not make decisions for themselves how would that proceed?
If he or she had a power of attorney previously drawn up, then that would make a big difference in their life. If you are not married and have no close family that you can rely upon to make decisions on your behalf, then a medical power of attorney is an estate planning tool that you should look into. A medical power of attorney will direct a medical provider to able to do certain things while you are incapacitated. For instance, if you do not want to have a blood transfusion for religious or any other reason then you can state that in your medical power of attorney. On the other hand, if you do not want extreme measures to be taken regarding the saving of your life then you can list this in your power of attorney. If not your spouse or family, then the doctors who care for you would make those decisions for you and you may not like what they decide.
There is also a financial power of attorney which allows you to name someone (called an agent) to carry out financial instructions if you become incapacitated. Withdrawing money from your bank accounts, making decisions about investments, and deciding when and if to sell your home. These are just a few examples of how a financial power of attorney can be a useful document to have for your estate planning purposes. Do not underestimate how tricky life can be for you and your family if you become incapacitated. You can remove the guesswork when it comes to your financial life by having a financial or durable power of attorney drafted which reflects your wishes for your money.
Final thoughts on estate planning
Whatever your situation is there are always steps you can take to better prepare your family and your estate for an accident or just something unfortunate which occurs. It does not have to be because of a tragedy like those aboard this submersible suffered. We cannot prevent bad outcomes from happening all the time, but we can prepare for them by being intentional and diligent in our estate planning.
If you have questions about how to proceed when it comes to estate planning, then look no further than the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. We are here to serve our community through whatever estate planning circumstances are relevant to them. When you need guidance, advice, or simply information then we are here to help. Thank you for spending some time with us on our blog today.
Questions about the material contained in today’s blog post? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
If you have any questions about the material contained in today’s blog post, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed estate planning attorneys offer free-of-charge consultations six days a week in person, over the phone, and via video. These consultations are a great way for you to learn more about the world of Texas estate planning as well as what the consequences of a probate case may be for your family.