This month I had an article practically finished about charitable giving. It was driven by the season. However, the past 10 days have compelled me to change the content. Four sets of siblings have come to me with their loved ones imminently or literally on their deathbeds to “get their affairs in order.” In three cases, the conversation included comments about the level of privacy that the person maintained during their lifetime.
There was a time when biological families all lived within close proximity of one another. We were “all in each other’s business.” It is more typical to live far away from one another and not have the information regarding each other’s affairs.
In two cases, the person who was sick had no children and was not married. The chaos affects those left behind. In one situation, brothers were seeking guardianship for their sister, who had suffer multiple strokes and living solely on life support. The brothers who lived considerably far away had been taking turns flying in to be at their sister’s side. Unfortunately, I advised them that the guardianship process would take longer than the time their sister had left once she was removed from the life support, which was imminent. I directed them to wait the projected two weeks to move forward with the probate process that would follow. She did not have a power of attorney in place for her brothers to manage her affairs. They had to use their own resources to pay for an attorney. They will have to use their own resources to pay for the funeral service. The exhaustion that they shared was palpable. They had planned to hold a graveside service in their hometown with just immediate family. I encouraged them to rethink this plan with the little information that I had about her life. I know that she was a valued member of an academic community. I advised them that while the struggle is real in having to push out the energy and the finances to plan for such an event, they would experience the love that being a part of their sister’s community brings. They would indeed be blessed by seeing the love the community had for their sister. All of this would have been understood if there were incapacity plans in place.
In one situation, I was contacted by my new husband’s family on the evening before my birthday. I had been told that this cousin was in hospice and was now willing to put his affairs in order. I offered to come in on Saturday as there was no space on my calendar. The sibling shared that she wasn’t sure he would have the energy by Saturday. This was Wednesday night. I made the decision to sacrifice my birthday plans to spend the time with this family. After meeting Thursday morning, our office committed to prioritizing and refocusing our efforts to getting his affairs in order. That night I was able to complete his estate plan.
In three of the four cases sibling cases presented, we as a firm went outside of our office hours and made the exception for families that failed to plan. This came at significant expense financial to the siblings as well as sacrifice to our office team. We often say that your failure to plan does not create a crisis for me. In these cases, we were able to make time sacrifices. Only because it was my birthday did my calendar allow for me to be available. I cannot consistently ask for Saturday availability.
Asking about the affairs of your brothers or sisters and loved ones is indeed getting into their business. Taking the steps today can prevent the crisis of tomorrow.