Sometimes death has a way of bringing out the worst in families. The death of a parent and the subsequent efforts to settle the estate can renew old rivalries among siblings. Ask those who grew up in dysfunctional families, and they’ll tell you that just because they’re older doesn’t mean that relationship problems disappear. The issues that divided that family 20 years ago likely still remain. Grudges and perceived inequities still can feel fresh. If there’s a significant amount of money to be divided among family members, things can quickly become hostile. If you’re the Probate Executor, here are some tips for defusing volatile family dynamics.
Inheritance fights are on the rise
A huge number of baby boomers have done nothing to prepare for retirement, and accumulated assets from their more frugal parents become a critical part of their retirement planning. When things go badly, people realize that they need their inheritances. A lot of people are living off the parental dole. As their parents near the end, these children grab as much as they can and are far less willing to share it with their siblings. An uneven economy, layoffs and shrunken retirement plans have hurt many.
Here are three common trigger points for family fights over inheritances:
1. Mom always liked you best
While nobody really wants to be an Executor, deep down inside we want to be asked, because we equate being named Executor as both a vote of confidence and a validation of our relationship with the person who died. It’s also an indicator of leadership and intelligence. Not being asked can create resentment toward the person who was asked. That resentment can create distrust of the process and constant questioning of the decisions that are made. If you have been named the Executor, you can minimize resentment by being sensitive to others’ feelings, staying approachable and encouraging collaboration.
2. Fair isn’t always equal
There’s often a gap between what beneficiaries expect to receive and what they actually get. One of the most common refrains is “Mom said she wanted me to have [fill in the blank] after she died.”
This becomes a slippery slope. If the Will doesn’t specify the distribution of an individual item, the item belongs to the estate. If there’s no Will, that item and everything else belongs to the estate. While some requests from family members may seem small enough, they present risks. If the Executor were to let Joanne take that one heirloom vase that wasn’t specifically bequeathed to her, everyone else will want to take something. They may decide to take one more item each. Then another. Before you know it, the estate becomes diminished.
3. Facing your judge and jury
Family members are stakeholders, and they can be harsh critics. Questions can escalate into accusations if they aren’t answered, or if the other beneficiaries don’t like the answers. Constant criticism can put tremendous pressure on Executors. Fear of conflict can be paralyzing, which is one of the reasons Probate can drag on for years.
Simple steps for keeping family members on board
An Executor may not be able to control a dysfunctional family. If you’re an Executor, what you can do is be transparent, document everything you’re doing and communicate early and often.
Tell everyone the rules. Let family members know that there will be some collaboration. There are going to be decisions that you will have to make on your own. Just keep your siblings updated.
Consider a Mediator. If you know that your family’s level of dysfunction could complicate Probate, consider bringing in a Mediator. A Mediator will remain neutral and work with your family to resolve disputes over inheritance. Having a third party can defuse volatile situations.
Take care of yourself. Take care of yourself through this difficult and emotional process. Set boundaries about the time you’ll focus on Probate issues and keep up with the rest of your life. Many Executors also have demanding full-time jobs and families. It’s critical to find a balance.
California Document Preparers assists our clients with Probate. While Probate can seem overwhelming, it’s a methodical process and we assist you through each step for one fixed fee of $4,500. Schedule an appointment today by contacting us at one of our three Bay Area offices. Our dedicated team is helpful, compassionate and affordable.
You’ve created a Living Trust, an Advanced Healthcare Directive and signed a Do Not Resuscitate Order (DNR). You’ve done everything right, but is this enough? In one alarming example, a nurse was under the misguided belief that Living Trusts automatically include DNRs. She instructed the doctor not to resuscitate the elderly patient who been rushed to the emergency room with a urinary tract infection, but was otherwise in good health.
Fortunately, the doctor looked at the medical record that said “Do everything possible,” with a checkmark approving cardiopulmonary resuscitation. The patient was treated, recovered quickly and released within a few days.
Mistakes surrounding documents that guide end-of-life decisions are common
Unfortunately, misunderstandings involving documents meant to guide end-of-life decision-making are “surprisingly common,” said Dr. Monica Williams-Murphy, medical director of advance-care planning and end-of-life education for Alabama’s Huntsville Hospital Health System.
Yet, amid the push to encourage older adults to document their end-of-life preferences, health systems and state regulators don’t systematically track mixups of this kind, and they receive little attention. As a result, information about the potential for patient harm is scarce.
Pennsylvania finds nearly 100 incidents of code status violations in 2016
A new report from Pennsylvania, which has the nation’s most robust system for monitoring patient safety events, treats mixups involving end-of-life documents as medical errors.
In 2016, Pennsylvania health care facilities reported nearly 100 events relating to patients’ “code status”. This includes issues related to whether or not they wish to be resuscitated, if their hearts stop beating, if they stop breathing, etc.
In 29 cases, patients were resuscitated against their wishes. In two cases, patients weren’t resuscitated, despite making it clear they wanted this to happen.
The rest of the cases were “near misses” — problems caught before they had a chance to cause permanent harm. An example of a near miss and its fatal effect on a patient
Asked to describe a near miss, Regina Hoffman, executive director of the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority, provides an example. “Let’s say I’m a patient who’s come to the hospital for elective surgery and I have a DNR order in my medical chart. After surgery, I develop a serious infection and a resident finds myDNR order. He assumes this means I’ve declined all kinds of treatment. This could be a fatal decision unless a colleague or someone intervenes.”
Medical staff are not trained to interpret legal forms and their relation to treatment
Doctors and nurses receive little, if any, training in understanding and interpreting Living Trusts, DNR orders and Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) forms, either on the job or in medical or nursing schools.
Communication breakdowns and the pressure-cooker environment in emergency departments, where life-or-death decisions often have to be made within minutes, also contribute to misunderstandings.
Some basics about end-of-life documents:
Living Trusts. A Living Trust is a legal document that details how you will distribute your estate among your heirs. By creating a Living Trust, your family will avoid having to go through Probate. As part of California Document Preparers’ Living Trust package, we include a Power of Attorney and an Advance Healthcare Directive.
Do Not Resuscitate Orders (DNR). Do-not-resuscitate orders are binding medical orders, signed by a physician. A DNR order applies specifically to cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and directs medical personnel not to administer chest compressions, usually accompanied by mouth-to-mouth resuscitation if someone stops breathing or their heart stops beating.
Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) Orders. A POLST form is a set of medical orders for a seriously ill or frail patient who could die within a year. It is signed by a physician, physician assistant or nurse practitioner.
What can we do about the misinterpretation of end-of-life documents?
We need to become advocates for ourselves and our families. This is especially important for those who are caring for aging family members. Make sure you have ongoing discussions about end-of-life preferences with medical teams, agents for Advance Healthcare Directive and other family members who may be involved in their care. It’s critical that everyone knows your wishes, especially when—not if—health status changes. Without these conversations, documents can be difficult to interpret.
Something to keep in mind: Doctors and EMTs are trained to save lives—it goes against their training to let someone die. It’s up to all of us to make sure we’re following the wishes of those we love.
They’re officially called Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), but you probably know them as tiny houses. They’re small, carefully designed, tidy and, well, adorable. People are fascinated by these little houses for a lot of reasons. They’ve become part of the conversation about the housing crisis that has become a global issue. Our population and job market have grown dramatically, but there’s no place for workers to live. Tiny houses are helping us solve our big housing problem.
Tiny houses share a lot with the main residence
By definition, ADUs share a single-family lot with a larger, primary dwelling, though they can be located within, attached to or detached from the main residence. (Garage apartments and backyard cottages are classified as ADUs.) As an independent living space, an ADU is self-contained, and it may have an open-space floorplan. ADUs are springing up everywhere these days–in cities, in suburbs and in rural areas. ADUs help improve housing affordability and diversify a community’s housing profile without changing the physical character of a neighborhood. They may be completely invisible from the street or to neighbors.
There are many advantages to ADUs
Retirement income. For retirees or those thinking about retiring, ADUs can create important retirement income. They’re generally managed by the homeowners who live on the premises.
Downsizing. Older adults can move into the ADU, downsizing on their own property and renting out the larger house, allowing them to age in place.
As a guesthouse. ADUs can provide temporary or permanent housing options for parents, adult children, grandchildren or an assisted-care provider.
Community compatible. ADUs are community-compatible because they’re less visible. It can be easier to gain community support to build an ADU than to build a larger complex.
Environmentally friendly. Measuring between 600 and 1,000 sq. ft., they’re ideal for today’s smaller, childless households, which are nearly two-thirds of all households in the U.S. It takes fewer resources to build and less energy to maintain an ADU.
I live in a tiny house, which also has a tiny patio
I live in a tiny house that’s really quite spacious, though it’s only 400 sq. ft. But living in a tiny house requires adjustment. It’s not for everyone. I don’t cook or host big dinner parties. I have ridiculously limited counter space. We all love our stuff, but living in a tiny house means getting rid of much of it. It means looking for smaller furniture that can serve dual purposes—anything that doubles as storage is golden. Forget buying in bulk, but do buy lifts for your bed—for just $13 on Amazon, I bought six more luxurious inches of storage space underneath my bed.
ADUs and tiny homes are part of an important housing dialog
We’ve simply run out of places for people to live. Rents soar and the cost of purchasing a home continues to rise. Google has pledged $1B to help build workforce housing in their South Bay community. In January, Microsoft pledged $500M to create affordable housing around its Seattle area housing market. Increasingly, communities are looking to corporations to help assume the cost of housing their workforce.
ADUs can be an important housing option for many Americans
Note that an ADU is not to be confused with the miniscule tiny houses that are sometimes mounted on wheels and moved around to different locations. By definition, ADUs share a lot with the main property. At least for now, there don’t seem to be challenging permit issues associated with building an ADU. They’re on your own property and perfectly legal. ADUs are transcending demographics and providing badly needed housing options.
Many of our clients are seniors who come in to our offices to create their Living Trusts