The importance of Estate Planning for Seniors
Today's newsletter was difficult to write. It's not the happiest piece I've ever written. But, it contains a special reminder regarding senior estate planning: get your senior estate plans in order.
Champ Jackie wrote, “I went to my 50th class reunion in September, 2015, and met a classmate. It became a wonderful love story. Randy lived in Illinois and I lived in San Clemente, California. We married in Sept. 2016. We had a lot of love and laughter.
“He also had a cancer journey and had a few months of being cancer-free until his CT scan showed a tumor in his liver. The chemo pill caused CHF (Congestive Heart Failure) and in December he was in the hospital for 14 days and the chemo was stopped. He had two major things going against him. He passed away in April, seven months after we were married.
“No one can ever know the deep pain until they lose a mate to death. I feel my divorce was a piece of cake compared to this.
“He was thoughtful to be sure he had his house here in Illinois paid off after he passed and I have his car.
“I can't imagine another love story happening like what just happened to me. To add to the pain, I got a denial letter from the Social Security Administration that you must be married nine months to get your husband’s Social Security, which was over $2,000 a month compared to my $152.
“I'm almost 70 and both Randy and I felt we were 18 and acted like it for the short time we had together. I'm taking one day at a time while in this heavy fog; I'm volunteering and meeting other widows at church while wondering what my next purpose will be.
“I'm too outgoing to shut myself in my house, but it’s too soon to date, and I’m not sure if I even want to. I want to be a strong woman and not needy and vulnerable.
“My husband would say- When things happen it makes for a ‘Good Story.’ My life is on to the next chapter! I wish I had a ‘Ghost Writer.’
Tom’s comment: I asked Jackie if it was okay to share her story and had a few questions about their estate plan, not to be nosey, but since she mentioned the Social Security issue, to alert seniors, including those who meet later in life, of the importance of updating their estate plans.
I also mentioned to Jackie that although she couldn’t imagine another love story happening like what happened to her, I know of one that was featured in our March newsletter. Both Jackie’s story and the March one had estate planning issues. I will explain about the March story after finishing Jackie's story.
Jackie said, “Use my story, especially to warn people of the Social Security law. I’ve tried to appeal but they looked at me as if I were crazy. They said, ‘We don’t even have forms for it because it’s the law.’
Note from Tom: I checked online with the Social Security Administration and found this: “For a Social Security survivor's benefit, a widow or widower must have been married to the deceased worker at the time of his or her death and for at least nine months immediately prior to the day in which the worker died, unless one of the exceptions is met.”
Jackie continued, “Randy updated his Estate to pay off the house and I was made equal Trustee with his son. He gave me his IRA, which I will be taxed on. I have the house to sell if I needed to. I know Randy left in peace saying I would be okay having his Social Security. I joke and say if he knew about the S.S. law, I could see him wanting to be on life support for two more months.
“I meet people worse off than me and I become very grateful for ALL I have and especially my faith.”
“My highlight was Valentine’s Day after his CT scan, when I pushed him four blocks in his wheelchair to the Hancock Building in Chicago and we went to the 96th floor. We ate and watched the sun go down. He got back in his wheelchair and I pushed him back to the car, laughing all the way!”
Jackie and Randy in Chicago, 96th floor, Hancock Building
And now to the other story—somewhat similar to Jackie’s--that many of you will likely remember. In March, I wrote about my two high school classmates, Phil and Sue, who married after only seeing each other in person one time in 50 years for 20 minutes. And, like Jackie’s reunion in Illinois, that meeting was at the 50th high school reunion of my class, and our reunion was in Jackson, Michigan.
To the shock and dismay of my classmates, Phil passed away from heart-related issues just four months after he and Sue were married.
(I have not mentioned Phil’s passing in the newsletter because it was just too damn sad for me and many of my classmates who read this newsletter. As it is, we have our reunion September 16, back in Jackson, Michigan, and Phil’s passing is going to be a downer--and not our class’ only downer-- because other classmates have lost spouses recently as well).
But the glitch in Phil’s estate plan was that it had not been updated since he and Sue decided to marry. Plus, the primary trustee he had appointed opted out of that role. Sue told me that she and Phil were going to work on the plan when they returned to California after the September 16 reunion.
So there Sue was back in Michigan, having to deal with a trust that did not include her and did not designate her as a trustee or executor. Bummer.
The point of today’s newsletter is the importance of having one’s estate plan up-to-date. Here we have two situations: one couple where an estate plan was updated and protected the wife, and the other couple where the estate plan was not updated and did not protect the wife.(There may be a legal option in California that can benefit Sue but it is complicated and will take some legal investigating on her part).
Seniors should have their estate plans and wills updated, including if they decide to marry quickly. Having an air-tight estate plan is very important, and that includes having at least two successor trustees/executors that you can count on.
In California, if you own property and pass away without a living trust, your property will go into probate--a prolonged and expensive process.
Yesterday, when discussing this newsletter with my Stand Up Paddle Boarding partner, Russell Kerr, who was a financial adviser and office manager with the Edward Jones Company, he said the most important words to share with you Champs regarding estate plans are: "What If?"
Even people who do not own real estate should have a simple will so that the assets they own will be distributed to the people they want the assets to go to. Don't leave it up to the individual states to decide.
So, our thanks to Jackie and Sue for their willingness to share their warm but sad stories with us. Senior estate planning is vital. Get your senior estate plans in order.