How on earth am I going to make this blog post concise with THAT kind of a title!  Rather than write a series of posts, I thought it would be beneficial to share with you some recent occurrences and how they all seem to tie together.

A friend recently received a document from the probate court and asked me what it was all about.  It was a notice of intent to close the estate for failure to file the continued administration forms  What does that mean?  Basically, if a probate goes on for more than a year you are supposed to file a continuation statement with the probate court.  If you don’t, the clerk of the court may close it with notice to the interested persons followed by a waiting period.  Why, I wonder, had it come that far?  It turns out that there are c0-Personal Representatives and they are not talking to each other.  Because of that and their unwillingness to hire an attorney to handle the matter, nothing is getting done and nobody is getting anything from the estate.  She then shared with me that, “during her life, mom always said, ‘equal shares for everyone, a third, a third, and a third.’  Now my one sister (co-Personal Representative) wants it all and she’s not talking terms with me or my other sister (the other co-Personal Representative).”  Here is the statement that cut to the heart for me . . . “I just don’t understand.  Things were fine while she was alive – now that she passed away (over a year ago) and there’s money at stake, nobody gets along.”  Sadly, this is not the first time I’ve heard or witnessed this type of situation.

And yet, it is still difficult to get people to plan for these situations.  In passing conversations many people tell me, “that won’t happen to MY family.”  How do you know?  I’ve been very surprised by some of the families I’ve seen torn apart after one or both of the parents pass away.  In many cases it was directly a result of poor (or no) planning.

So, what does that have to do with a movie, priorities, and tax season?  Well, I recently watched the movie “The Ultimate Gift,” in which a VERY wealth grandfather plans his estate in such a way that his grandson has to perform certain tasks to find out what, if anything, he gets from the estate.  The tasks are designed to teach him a lesson and give him an intangible gift (e.g., gift of work, gift of friends, etc.).  It was a great movie, (although some of the law wasn’t quite right).

And so with those two situations as a background, I come to the topic of priorities.  You may have read my previous post about priorities here.  Planning really comes down to priorities.  Although the mother in the first example put a basic estate plan in place, she did not place priority on planning for as many possible outcomes as she could have.  Maybe she didn’t think the family would have the problems they are now having, maybe her attorney didn’t talk about those issues, maybe, maybe, maybe.  There is no way to know.  What I DO know, is that you do the things that you place priority on.  I’m not saying one priority is right over another, just that I think we all (myself included) need to think a little bit more about our priorities in the grand scheme of things.  A great example is when you have children – your priorities better change or things will not go well.  I know mine changed for the better, and a cherish every moment I get with my kids.

And now tax season is upon us.  You either love it or hate it – you either get a rebate or have to pay.  And priorities come to the forefront.  How?  Well, the most common phrase I hear when someone I know gets a tax refund is, “wow, what should I do with it?”  I know folks who have bought cars, big-screen TVs, saved some of it, paid bills, took a vacation, and numerous other things.  Those may not be bad choices, but here’s one more for you to consider – get your estate plan in order.  Whether that means putting a plan in place based on YOUR most important objectives (rather than the one the government wrote for you), or having your existing plan reviewed to make sure it still works, you should consider this as an important option for those tax rebate dollars.  What better way to use the rebate than to plan for your family’s future and their protection – to know that if something happened to you or your spouse, your children would be taken care of by who you want in the way you want and that your financial planning would be used for their benefit.  Although cliche, I believe that is “priceless.”