THE WILLS AND WORDS CHALLENGE (an estate planner's chronicle) Week # 1

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the problem:  50% of Americans do not have an estate plan.

THE CHALLENGE:  Make the case for an Estate Plan to 50% of Americans (or at least to my family, friends, and community).

THE CONTENDER:  An Oak Park attorney (sole practitioner) who has discovered the value of both having an estate plan and the ability to draft one.    

THE METHOD:  One argument, article, or essay a week.

THE DEADLINE:  7 weeks


(not a heart attack)

Making the Case For An Estate Plan

I woke up to my husband lying in bed beside me, unconscious and gasping for breath.  He was in full cardiac arrest.  An incomprehensible fact.  Mike was only 55 years old and one of the healthiest people I knew.  He never smoked, ate moderately, and biked 25 to 50 miles almost daily.  Yet, here he was having a heart attack.  I called 911 and began to perform CPR while our teenage kids watched in horror.  Once the paramedics arrived Mike coded on our bedroom floor.  Luckily, thanks to some great first responders, Mike was brought back to life and rushed to the hospital.  




At the hospital I was asked if Mike had heath care directives.  Embarrassed, I had to reply that he did not.  Even though my husband and I were both attorneys, we had never drafted documents for health care directives.  We also did not have a trust or a will, no estate plan what-so-ever.  Never even had the conversation.    We were too healthy, too young, and too busy to deal with all that paperwork.  Plus, we would have plenty of time in the future when we are older, when life was slower, right?  Or so we thought.  I made a guess about my husband's health care desires and into surgery he went.




Mike received a successful angioplasty procedure (two arteries were blocked over 90%) but he was unstable, and he still had not regained consciousness.  The doctors said they could not predict the outcome.  Time would tell.  My husband lay unconscious in his hospital bed hooked up to a breathing tube and a heart machine.  My emotional stress began to be compounded by a financial one. 



I started to think about the possibility that Mike might remain unconscious for some time.  If so, his lack of capacity could mean that I would not have access to his individual finances.  Those finances included his paycheck, the money that we used to pay our monthly bills.  If we had bothered to draft an estate plan I would have easily been given access to Mike's financial matters.  Without one I might need to hire an attorney and ask a guardianship judge for the authority to get access to the money we used to pay the bills.  




If, God forbid, Mike died, I might need to hire an attorney and open a probate court case.  There, the intestate laws of Illinois would be applied to distribute Mike's property.  Half of his property would be distributed to our kids and half to me.  This could mean that I might be borrowing money from my kids to pay our bills and their college tuition.  A fact almost as incomprehensible as Mike having a heart attack. 



Mike received excellent care at the original hospital.  But there came the time when he needed to be transferred to a second hospital to receive additional care.  With Mike riding in the back of the ambulance still hooked up to a heart and a breathing machine, I was directed to sit in the front passenger seat.  As we drove through red lights at 2 a.m. I started to think about a third incomprehensible fact, an ambulance crash.




If something were to happen to both Mike and me who would take care of the kids?  What would happen to our dog, Pepper?  Would someone find all of our necessary documents in our piles of papers?  In hindsight, it seemed so irresponsible of Mike and me to have potentially burdened our kids and our family with all these life decisions and financial matters.  Were we really ever "too busy” to organize our documents and draft an estate plan?  Thankfully, due to expert ambulance transport personnel, we made it to the second hospital accident free.  There Mike again received wonderful care.



Mike made a full recovery.  He regained capacity about seven days after his heart attack.  Most of his doctors say he is lucky to be alive.  Today, Mike is quite healthy.  He is back at work and he even biked 50 miles a few days ago.  Now, there are only a few indicators that Mike ever suffered a heart attack.  One is the four bottles of heart medicine on his dresser.  Another is the signed estate plan in our desk.  


THE RESULT:  If I have made my case, please contact me or another trustworthy attorney to draft your estate plan.  If not, look for next week's argument. 


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