St. Mark’s Adult Education Meeting Summary
“Series on Death and Dying: #1”
Coordinated and Led by Rev. Deacon George Snyder
Sunday, September 14, 2003
George began discussion by explaining that the purpose of the series on death and dying was to explain what various options were available to everyone and how one may plan for his or her eventual death as a Christian. He noted that the death of a loved one could be much easier on the family if proper plans were made beforehand. A brochure that highlights the many things to think about such as what certificates are needed, which people to inform, how to donate body parts, plans for caskets and funeral services, etc. are all covered in this comprehensive document. Hard copies will be made available to those interested and the electronic version will also be posted to our web site so that it may be conveniently downloaded, or they will be made available on individual diskettes.
St. Mark’s was pleased to have as a guest speaker, the Rev. John Talk, who is also a lawyer by profession. He is employed as legal consultant for Episcopal Retirement Homes. ERH currently has four retirement centers one of which is classified as low-income housing and is subsidized by HUD. There are facilities for unassisted living, for assisted living, and for full-time nursing care. The cost to stay in each of these facilities rises accordingly.
John then talked to the group about death from a legal standpoint. Death severs the relationship we have with our earthly possessions and from the people who know and care for us. We thus have a responsibility to make sure that those relationships end properly when we die. One tool we can utilize is estate planning. The first step is to make a list of the relationships we have with others here on earth as well as relationships (i.e. ownership) we may have of physical things. We should then consider what responsibilities we have to these things and what we want to happen to these things after our death. Life insurance, which is not taxed after your death, should be considered, but only if obligations cannot be covered by other assets from the estate. Pre-paid funeral plans are also becoming popular. It’s also good to have a funeral plan so your family knows what your preferences are.
Next, wills were discussed in some detail. Wills provide a means to distribute assets after your death. This includes financial as well as physical assets. Spouses have certain rights, which may also vary slightly from state to state, to help them maintain some minimal living standard. Anyone dying without a will, is said to die “in testate,” or literally “without testimony.” For example, in the state of Ohio, there is a general set of rules that applies on how assets should be distributed. This is acceptable for many of the cases, but it is still preferable to have a will. Generally, managing of the estate is handled by the children; often with one child taking the lead. Wills can be either very simple or very complex depending upon the circumstances. It’s a good idea to review your own will periodically to make sure it is kept up to date.
The concept of probate was then discussed. Probate provides a mechanism to let relatives, debtors, creditors, etc. know that you have died. An executor is appointed. His or her job is to first, pay themselves, second, pay taxes, third, pay debtors, and finally distribute the remainder of the assets. Probate provides a means wrap up all loose ends and “wipe the slate clean.” The executor, for example, can continue to pay bills and payroll if managing for someone who ran a small business. Some states also allow for independent executors.
The final topic was on how to pass on assets to other family members. One way is to simply pass on up to $15,000 per year while still living tax free as a gift. Another method is to set up a trust. By the rules of a trust, you no longer own those particular assets, but you have the right to the use of the trust as long as you are living. One other benefit of trusts is that they avoid probate. Trusts can last up to 21 years after the death of a specified person. A mis-managed trust can result in significant financial losses, so it is best to utilize a respected attorney who specializes in this area. Also visit “www.nolo.com” for more information on the subject. There is also a special field of “elder law” for those over sixty specializing in long-term health care. George thanked Rev. Talk for his visit and very informative discussion.