Estate Planning for Law Enforcement and First Responders
Many people put off estate planning. If asked, they may say they are too young, healthy or can’t afford it. Some have trouble just thinking about what could happen if they should die while their minor children and spouse are depending on them. But being in law enforcement/ first responder it is critically important that you have a good estate plan in place. Even a healthy, young adult can be taken suddenly by an accident or illness, but those individuals who face danger and risky, possible life threatening situations on a daily basis need estate planning precisely because others are depending on them.
Of course, you are not expecting to be injured or die while performing your duties as a first responder, but planning for the possibility is being prudent and responsible, and it shows your family how much you care.
A good estate plan for a first responder will include naming someone to administer the estate (an executor), naming a guardian/tutor to care for minor and /or disabled children, providing instructions for the distribution of your assets, setting up a trust to place inheritance for minor and /or disabled children until they are adults and naming someone to manage that trust (a trustee) and provide for expenses of daily living that your children will likely need. It will also include reviewing your insurance needs, planning for disability and putting a plan into place in case you are unable to make decisions for yourself regarding your health care and/or finances.
Naming an Executor for Your Estate
This person will be responsible for handling your final financial affairs – locating and valuing assets, locating and paying bills, distributing assets, hiring an attorney and other advisors – so it should be someone trustworthy, willing, able, knows you and will carry out your wishes.
Naming a Guardian/Tutor for Minor Children
If something happens to one parent, the other parent will continue to raise the children (unless he or she is physically or emotionally unable to do so). But who will raise them if something happens to both of you? This is often a difficult decision for parents, but it is very important because if you have not named a guardian/tutor, the court will appoint someone without knowing your wishes, your children or your family members.
Providing Instructions for Distribution of Your Assets
Most married couples want their assets to go to the surviving spouse if one of them dies. In Louisiana, any separate property passes to your children or descendants and any community property is divided, such that your surviving spouse gets their half of the community property free and clear. However, your surviving spouse only gets a usufruct (a fancy word meaning the right to use) of your half of the property with the children getting the naked ownership (which means they own the property but do not have with right to use it or sell it until your surviving spouse dies). If both parents die, many parents want their assets to be used to care for their children. If you do not take the proper steps to set this up, the assets will pass directly to the children and whomever is the children’s guardian/tutor will have control of the assets until the children become adults. This could be harmful to your minor children.
Setting up a Trust and Naming a Trustee to Manage the Trust with Your Children’s Inheritance
Unless you include this in your estate planning, the court will appoint someone to oversee your children’s inheritance (usually the same person who is appointed as your children’s guardian/tutor). This will cost money, which will be paid for from your assets and will leave less for your children’s inheritance. Also, the children will receive their inheritance (in equal shares) when they reach legal age, at 18. Most parents prefer that their children inherit when they are older and to keep the money in one “pot” so it can be used to care for the children’s different needs. This will not be done automatically, however, and requires you to take the steps to set up a trust. Establishing a trust for your children’s inheritance, including insurance, lets you accomplish these goals and select someone you know and trust to manage it.
Reviewing Insurance Needs
Part of the estate planning process is to review the amount of life insurance on both spouses/parents. Income earned by one or both spouses/parents would need to be replaced if something were to happen to you or your spouse. Additional coverage may be needed to provide for your children until they are grown; even more if you want to pay for college. As a first responder, short term disability and long term disability can also be of vital importance.
Planning for Disability
There is the possibility that you as a first responder could become disabled due to injury, illness or even an act of violence. This should be planned for, as well. Both you and your spouse, if you are married and you individually if you are not married, need medical powers of attorney that give someone else legal authority to make health care decisions for you if you are unable to do so. You would probably name your spouse or a close relative or friend to do this, but one or two others should be named in case your spouse/relative/friend is unable to act. HIPPA authorizations will give your doctors permission to discuss your medical situation with others (parents, siblings, and close friends). Disability income insurance should also be considered because life insurance does not pay at disability. The probability of a thirty-year old becoming disabled is many times greater than dying and unlike the deceased, expenses continue piling up for the disabled individual.
Putting Your Plan in Place
Estate planning will require you to think about family relationships and some decisions may be difficult. But an experienced estate planning attorney will be able to help you through the process, provide valuable guidance and make sure your plan will do what you want when it is needed. If finances are tight, start with the most essential legal documents and low cost, term life insurance, then update and upgrade your plan as your financial situation improves. The most important thing is not to put this off. As a first responder, you place your life in danger every day. While you often perform acts of heroism for strangers, the simple act of putting your estate plan in place can be an act of heroism for you and your family should something happen to you. Once your plan is in place, you will have peace of mind that your family will be protected.
Please contact your estate planning attorney to put your plan in place today and provide protection to your family and peace of mind for yourself that you have taken to the steps to plan for your family’s future, even if you are not able to be there.
If you do not have an estate planning attorney, please feel free to contact us. We would be happy to sit down with you, answer any questions you may have and provide guidance for how you might put your plan in place. Our first meeting is free of charge, so you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
I hope you have found this information useful and helpful.
Dayna M. Ryan
Theus, Grisham, Davis & Leigh, L.L.C.
Monroe, Louisiana 71201
(318) 388-0100 (ext 15)
Fax: (318) 322-8813