s-town theme

Let’s be honest, the topic of estate planning can be a little, well, dry. Every lawyer, financial advisor, real estate agent, and the like will encourage you to have a quality estate plan professionally drafted, but it tends to be one of those things you’ll get to eventually. Life happens, work piles up, your to-do list grows longer and deciding what you want done with your remains after you die seems like a worry for another day. But, once in a great while a story comes up where the topic of estate planning is so necessary and uniquely integrated that it’s hard to ignore—cue the buzz-worthy podcast, S-Town. The podcast broke a record with 10 million downloads in four days, so don’t just take my word for it.

S-Town header

Caution: A few spoilers ahead

If you haven’t listened to S-Town and don’t want to know ANY details of what unfolds, stop reading now. Go listen and then come back to read how S-Town exemplifies some of the key reasons you need a will ASAP.

The highly bingeable story from Serial Productions (masterminded by the producers at This American Life and Serial), takes place in a small town in Alabama. As This American Life producer Brian Reed dives into what appears to be a true crime story, in line with the first season of Serial, the tale takes an unexpected twist following an unanticipated death.

Brian Reed

Brian Reed, S-Town

The person who passed away didn’t have an estate plan. At first this may not seem like a big deal, but without a last will and testament, the individual’s death left a wake of conflict and confusion. Without an estate plan, a mother with dementia is left without defined care and guardianship; 13 dogs are left without a pet trust to declare who will care for them; property is fought over; a felony charge is issued; a religious funeral is held despite the deceased’s atheism; a house and land are sold, likely against the wishes of the individual if they had been alive; an immaculate, amazing garden maze will be destroyed; and because the deceased was “unbanked” there were no cash assets to pay for a funeral and other important costs. This person had verbally told some people what he wanted them to have in terms of property and monetary assets, but there was no written record, and such hearsay doesn’t hold up in a probate court.

S-Town maze

S-Town is not only an example of excellent storytelling, but also a real world example of what can happen when someone dies without putting in place clear directions and wishes for property, cash and non-cash assets, pets, health care, and final disposition. You don’t want your family and friends to fight, press charges, and dig up your property in search of gold when you die. So, there’s no day like today to have your estate plan drawn up.

A good place to start is with my obligation-free Estate Plan Questionnaire.

Already have an estate plan? Good. It’s probably time you reviewed and updated it.

Feel free to contact me any time to discuss further how to start an estate plan. I offer a one-hour free consultation, without any obligation. I can be reached any time at my email, gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com, or on my cell, 515-371-6077.

Winning an Oscar Award Academy Award leaves a legacy

I, along with all of you, just watched the totally wild end of Oscars 2017. Here are five legal lessons you can take away from this debacle.

(1) Absolutely, positively ANYTHING can happen at ANY time. So, be smart, plan ahead, and secure your future and your family’s future. A major way to do that is through estate planning.

(2) Planning is paramount. Somewhere along the line, protocols weren’t met, and a wrong envelope was handed out at the wrong time. Proper planning would have — SHOULD HAVE — prevented that.

(3) Double check EVERYTHING. Are you SURE your will is updated? Are you POSITIVE your estate planning documents are still in that safety deposit box, and your kids have access? Are you CERTAIN you updated your estate planning documents after your third kid was born? Go see your estate planning lawyer. 

(4) Did Warren Beatty seem a bit confused? He and his family might consider a medical checkup, and might also consider a Healthcare Power of Attorney. I explain all about healthcare PoAs and their importance here: LINK. And I’m not picking on Warren, I’m really not. A Healthcare PoA is good for everyone. Seriously, everyone should strongly consider a Healthcare PoA.

(5) Download my Estate Planning Questionnaire. The Oscars may end in total confusion, but you shouldn’t. The Estate Planning Questionnaire will ensure a smooth and predictable ending, just like you want.


Winning an Oscar Award Academy Award leaves a legacy

What could the Oscars possibly have to do with the estate planning?

Actually, a lot. The most celebrated films – the Best Picture Award nominees – all feature themes of death and legacy. Certainly, in some films, this theme is more pronounced than in others. But in all the films, death and legacy are present, almost as if unseen actors just offstage.

In Fences, an ex-ballplayer openly mocks death, wryly declaring more than once, and always with a wink, “Death ain’t nothing but a fastball on the outside corner.” Later, confronted with a sudden tragedy, he throws open a window and shouts into a storm, daring death to take him on.

In Manchester by the Sea, the tragedy of premature deaths washes over the entire story. Like waves relentlessly pounding the beach during a storm, the characters cannot escape memories of tragic loss.

Hacksaw Ridge is of course about death in war. The protagonist struggles, with tremendous courage, to save lives during the horrific carnage of battle.

Arrival actually features a “canary in a coal mine.” In movie’s dénouement, the characters are given a whole new way of looking at life and death, at past and present.

We shouldn’t be the least bit surprised by any of this, of course. Great art so often wrestles with the meaning of death and legacy. Think about Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey, to Shakespeare’s plays, all the way to recent novels like Marilynne Robinson’s Lila and Anne Tyler’s A Spool of Blue Thread.

In movies, characters so often face the riddles of death and legacy, because we do so in real life. How to give life meaning? How best to leave a legacy? Allow me to suggest that one very practical, and even relatively easy, way to secure your legacy is through estate planning.

For all of us, at some point, the credits will roll and the screen will go dark. Before that time comes, diligently plan so that your loved ones are protected and taken care of.

Perhaps most importantly for the question of legacy, through estate planning we can leave meaningful charitable gifts to our favorite charities. Without estate planning, it’s just not possible to make charitable gifts at death.

Do estate planning, do it right, so your testamentary gifts can help nonprofits for decades to come – quite a legacy for you. One might even say, proper estate planning, with a charitable component, is deserving of an award.

Now, pass the popcorn, and enjoy the show. Tomorrow, take some time to get started on your own legacy, by downloading my Estate Planning Questionnaire.