Sunday, May 1, 2011

Why Every Couple Needs Estate Planning-Now!

by: Helga Hayse

We take life on the road for granted. The oncoming car will stay in its lane. The driver behind us won't ride our rear fender. The grazing deer won't run out on the road. The driver in the weaving car can handle his tire blowout. The bridge will hold; the levee won't break.

Outside, the storm wasn't supposed to hit until evening. "I'll only be gone a few hours," her husband had said. " I have to meet this client before the weekend. We'll review the lawyer's papers when I come back."

The storm hit early. The bridge held; her husband's heart didn't. The conversation they needed to have didn't happen. He had resisted signing the papers for giving his wife durable powers of attorney for health care and financial decisions in case he was incapacitated.

When she got to the hospital, he was hooked up to life support. His eyes were closed; he couldn't talk. His sons consulted with the doctor. They ignored her. Even after ten years, the boys still resented their father's remarriage after their mother died.

Feeling invisible and helpless, his wife sobbed. If her husband survived, he would need heart surgery and extensive rehabilitation. His outdated estate plan, with provisions tailored for his first marriage, appointed his sons as holding durable powers of attorney. She would have no say in the matter. She knew the sons would not include her in their decisions. If her husband died, his previous will, still in effect, would benefit the adult sons from his first marriage.

They had had consulted an estate attorney a few weeks before his heart attack to bring the plan up to date and reflect their ten years of marriage. The draft of the revised plan was on the living room table. That's what they were planning to discuss when he returned. They would review it and get it back to the attorney for final signatures.

She had been so relieved when her husband finally acknowledged how frightened she was not to have financial protection in case something happened to him. He was the optimist in the family, always expecting the best, looking for the silver lining around every dark cloud. She loved that about him; it balanced her own tendency to brood and worry about things she couldn't control.

Neither of them had seen this coming. He was in good health; he'd quit smoking a few years ago, watched his weight, had some wine with dinner, exercised - all the things that they'd learned over the years would help them stay healthy longer. He certainly had not been a candidate for a heart attack.

If you're married to an optimist, he'll tell you not to worry, that everything will be fine. He'll point to the wonderful life you have together and reassure you that he understands your fears and concerns.

But if you're married to an optimist who is also a procrastinator, beware. He'll postpone taking action about things he doesn't like to think about, often until it's too late. You have a choice - Create an estate plan, make sure you've signed the durable powers of attorney and know that you've done what you need to do about things you can't control.

The other choice? Hope for the best.

Helga Hayse is author of "Don't Worry about a Thing, Dear" - Why Women Need Financial Intimacy. She teaches women about participating and understanding their marital finances and speaks to financial planners and estate planners about how to encourage crucial conversation between generations. Take her free financial intimacy quiz and read her frequently updated blog at

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