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Estate Planning


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A friend buried his dad recently. His experience speaks important truths to those of us in Texas who await equal recognition of our same-sex relationships. My friend was plunged into profound sadness and unimaginable anger when he found himself unable to honor his father’s wishes that he be laid to rest next to the man he loved.

The two men, who we will call Alan and Bob, lived together for 47 years in a relationship that was acknowledged and affirmed by both families. They lived together quietly. They worked. They paid their taxes. They participated in their communities and in the lives of a large web of friends and family. They didn’t march in parades or protests but they made this world a better place for their being in it.

Alan, my friend’s father, lived with Bob and Bob’s sister “Connie” in a small North Texas community. Connie had no spouse or children. Alan, Bob and Connie got on so well together for so many years that they decided to purchase adjoining funeral plots in the family cemetery.

To ensure that their wishes would be honored, they tried to make all the appropriate arrangements in advance. They shared their plans with their families. They believed all family members had the same understanding about what would happen after their deaths. My friend, Alan’s son, shared their understanding and thought that the members of both families did as well.

Bob died last fall, Alan was as devastated as anyone could be upon losing someone with whom he had shared his life for almost half a century.

A month later, Connie died. Alan died earlier this month. He did not leave a will.

Alan’s pre-need arrangement were a great blessing to my friend and his family. They had, on paper, exactly what Alan’s wishes were. They contacted the funeral home and made arrangements to have the plot that Bob had purchased for Alan opened for burial.

As it turned out, however, the three of them missed a couple of important details: Their agreement was verbal and when they bought their burial plots, they purchased the three plots in one name ─ Connie’s.

Shortly after Alan’s death, my friend received a telephone call from “Darrell,” the husband of Bob and Connie’s niece. Darrell informed my friend that, because the remaining plot of the three that Connie had purchased was tied up in probate, Alan could not be buried next to Bob as the two of them had wished.

My friend believes, but cannot prove, that Alan and Bob’s burial plans were known to Darrell. He is stunned that someone could so heartlessly complicate a family’s grief that way. He considered contacting an attorney and trying to enforce the verbal agreement, burying Alan in the plot next to Bob and running the risk of having to relocate him later. Ultimately, however, my friend decided legal action would take too much time. He wanted to bury his father.

Out of his experience, my friend, who is not an attorney, has some advice ─ general, not legal ─ to offer. Little, if any, is new. He hopes will help others:

   HAVE A WILL. No matter how old or young you are, if you do not have a valid will, stop what you are doing, get paper and pen and start writing. Don’t do it on your computer. Consult an attorney to determine the best way to handle your estate but write out your wishes in a dated, signed document now. Even if you plan to have an attorney draw up a more formal document later, your handwritten notes express your wishes and may cover you until you sign the formal document. DO NOT WAIT. Get things written down on paper now. Then, make an appointment with your attorney if you wish.

   PRE-ARRANGE YOUR FUNERAL. Doing so is a gift to the people you leave behind. Having to make financial decisions in the midst of new and profound grief is awful. Some plans, even if sold by a funeral home, are written through an insurance company and apply even when a different funeral home is used.

  •   PUT YOUR BURIAL PLOT IN YOUR NAME. If you buy adjoining plots to be buried together, DO NOT buy both plots in the same name.
  •    HAVE YOUR BURIAL PLANS IN WRITING AND PAID FOR. Having your plan in writing on paper, and pre-paying as much of the expenses as possible, helps ensure it your plan is followed. Make sure friends and family know your wishes. And know that, even if your families know your wishes, at least some of them may not want to honor your desires.
  •    MAKE ARRANGEMENTS FOR YOUR CHILDREN. Two or four-legged, smooth or furry, make clear who will be their guardian should you both die or become incapacitated.

Because Alan and Bob could not marry or otherwise register their relationship with the state, they were denied basic rights extended without thought or consideration to heterosexual citizens. Marriage equality may be on the horizon, but it did not happen in time for them. My friend buried his father Alan in his family’s cemetery near Alan’s parents and brothers in the town where he grew up. It’s not what Alan wanted but it was the best my friend and his family could do.

This fight to be recognized as full citizens of the nation has been long and frustrating. In the long run, though, it’s about love. Love doesn’t come in sizes, colors, genders, or orientations. Love is love. And love always wins.

 

Article by David Soileau

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