Distrust as a Distraction to Planning (Part II)

August 14, 2010

Last week, we discussed how our skepticism for institutions and each other can deter us from moving forward with estate planning.  This was exemplified by a Washington Post story describing a life insurance company earning more in interest than they were paying out to a family suffering the loss of their military son in action.  Interestingly, another recent article discussed the overall distrust of military servicepersons toward civilian financial advisors and planners.

It is unclear what strategies were recommended to the soldier from last week’s story.  What was even available to the soldier here?

The military has initiated the Legal Assistance Program, which is sponsored by the Department of Defense for its Military Community and Family Policy program.  Through the program, “attorneys provide service members and their family members with information on legal options, assistance with preparation of legal documents (i.e., wills and estate planning, powers of attorney, etc.), and legal consultation and advice.”  Note also that these services are free to eligible personnel.

It is quite commendable that the Department of Defense provides this and other similar services to help, guide, and educate its servicemen and servicewomen.  It is a fine example of how a Department that usually acts and reacts on a global scale also has taken seriously the needs of its individuals as well.  For us civilians, should we not do the same for ourselves?  Keying in on what is right for you and your loved ones is the best defense to overcome our inaction caused by our cynicism.

One relatively simple planning strategy recommended by most estate planning attorneys encourage individuals to not only draft wills, trusts, powers of attorney, etc., but to also leave a “Letter of Last Instructions” or its equivalent.  Such a letter is an informal note to survivors that include desired funeral arrangements, the location of important documents, and who to notify in order to help settle the estate.

The Letter can also be used to express the individual’s philosophy and ethics so that his survivors can be clearer on how he would have wanted insurance policy proceeds to be used (e.g. to pay off debts, go to charity, help the family, etc.).  Note how this instrument could enable the executor to rely mainly on the writer’s own words to guide her decisions, and how this could potentially have helped our soldier’s family as well.

This is the essence of estate planning – while lawyers, financial planners, bankers, insurance agents, and even governments can advise and recommend techniques and products, your ultimate plan should fully be reflective of you, your desires and your values.  Insist on this kind of focus from any professional you work with.

 Distrust as a Distraction to Planning (Part II)


Scott R. Zucker, Esq. is the owner of The Zucker Law Firm PLLC, located just outside the Capital Beltway in Annandale, within five miles of the City of Fairfax, the county seat of beautiful Fairfax County, Virginia. The firm focuses mainly on estate planning services for Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania clientele, and seeks to do so in an affordable and approachable way. People interested in learning more can contact Scott by phone or email.

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