Law Offices of Will Morris

Law Offices of Will Morris

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Showing 8 entries categorized by Funeral Considerations

Living a Legacy – Eternal Life Through Stories – Building the Aloha Book™

Would you believe that I love to tell stories?  Would you believe that I love to hear stories as well (with just a couple of exceptions)?  Stories are wonderful invitations into one’s soul, heart, values, fears, joys, and the value placed on relationships.  They tell a family history (note the word "story" in embedded in “history”).  I have a very simple concept of eternal life:  we live eternally through our legacy, the stories that people tell. 

Granted, some people tell maniacal egotistical stories that portray themselves with grandiose drama and misplaced accolades.  But, even those stories offer a few valuable data nuggets that deserve your care.  You simply need to learn to “separate the wheat from the chaff” and enjoy the wheat.  It also helps to learn a few transition lines to gently shift the conversation.  Some rambling stories are simply seeking affirmation;  you can save a lot of time and stress by granting that affirmation quickly by interjecting, “That is an awesome story and I am amazed by your accomplishments every time you tell it”.

Bill MorrisAnd yet, there are some stories I enjoyed hearing my father tell over and over again. His stories evoked a humble pride transitioning into a wonderful life that emerged from the depths of the Depression, through WWII, and becoming a wonderful father, grandfather, and great-grandfather.  His legacy lives through his stories and the stories I tell about him.

In his final years, my father endured a struggle with dementia that stole his short term memory but gloriously preserved his long term memory, encased in a special golden vault for him to share with my family.  I loved every story he told, no matter how many times he told it.  My three boys learned not only the value in granting time for their grandfather to tell the stories, but also the lessons held within the story itself.  I urge all families to be mindful of listening to stories.

The following story is short, and everybody in my family can repeat it word for word.  We can just pick one word or phrase from the story and capture it all.

The story would often start like this, which immediately reflects the loss of short term memory:

“Hey Zack, how old are you now?”

 “Daddy Bill, I am 16.”

“You know, when I turned 16, I came home from school and my dad said, ‘Bill Ed, you’re 16 now, it’s time to quit school and get a job at the railroad as a hostler – it’s time you start earning some of your keep around here.'"

 Dad paused and said, "Whatever that means."

The backdrop for this short story is so rich for me in many ways, so let me pick out my family nuggets to help you find the pieces of gold in your family stories. 

It would be fair to say that my dad and his father were not close; let’s just say they didn’t go to ball games together.  My grandfather was not an educated man, but he worked all day at the railroad and then came home and worked in his garden until dark.  It was the Depression and my dad would often say (another quick story), “When they drew blood when I entered the Army, it was 90% turnip juice." Times were tough.

Train YardSince my grandfather believed that hard work was the only way to survive, it was his overwhelming measurable value, well above formal education.  For him, it probably made perfectly good sense that my dad should quit school at 16 and start his career at the railroad, where he assumed his son would work the rest of his life.  I imagine he believed a greater degree of seniority would be earned by starting early.  My dad described a “hostler” as the worker that back-breakingly shoveled coal.

My grandfather’s comment about “earning some of your keep” expressed the toughness of the times and the need for every family member to contribute in some way.  My dad’s parenthetical expression, “Whatever that means,” confirms the colloquialism of the term in today’s conversation, but he no doubt understood it at the time.

Dad did not quit school, as he knew that his education was important and the only vehicle to get away from a life at the railroad (which incidentally shut down shortly after the war).  He earned his keep by waking up early, going to work at the drug store before school and serving breakfast.  He would run back to the drug store to serve lunch and then again after school to serve dinner and clean the store.  Dad worked seven days a week, but played dominoes at the fire station on weekend evenings. He claims he often won more money playing bones than his dad did at the railroad.  (Dominoes gives rise to another great story, to be told at another time.)  When my dad was old enough to join the National Guard he did so, primarily for the extra money, but maybe with a vision of getting far away from the railroad.  Little did he know that a war would break out that changed his career course forever.

My dad valued education and often said (and I often repeat), "The greatest gift you can give your kids is a great education."  The greatest part of that perspective is simply the truth, but subliminally he was completely rejecting his father’s advice at 16.  I am so glad that he did.  Another quick story:  I attended Punahou School in Honolulu, Hawaii, one of the most prestigious college preparatory schools in the country.  It was no doubt expensive at the time, but Dad made sure that is where I attended.  After my junior year, our tour of duty in Hawaii was over and we were scheduled for reassignment to the mainland.  I would then have to attend my senior year in a new and strange venue, leaving behind relationships that to this day are among my most cherished.  Dad recognized the value of my education and the importance of these relationships, and unilaterally decided, without family discussion or fanfare, that he was going to volunteer for a tour of duty in Vietnam so that my mother and I could stay in Hawaii and I could graduate from Punahou.  He unselfishly lived his mantra, “The greatest gift you can give your kids is a great education,” and then some.  I have carried this value forward for my boys, and I still get emotional telling this story.

The stories that my dad told about his father were not necessarily told with the same love and admiration that I share about my dad, who was my best friend.  But almost every story about my grandfather spoke of his toughness.  He was always described to me as “the toughest and hardest working man he ever knew,” certainly a value of the 1920s and 1930s.  One day, in the last months before my father passed away, I had the opportunity to reframe his story about his father, without changing the facts. 

I said, “Dad, I know you had a tough relationship with your father, but he taught you a lot about hard work, and to me you are the hardest working man I know.  I am grateful that you have so lovingly passed that value on to me and Zack, and Paul, and Brad and modeled it for us with such compassion.  So in separating the wheat from the chaff, we can look back at my grandfather and say, 'Thank you for living that value.'” 

My dad looked up at me and said, “Damn right, he was a hard working man,” and I think there was some pride and peace in that recognition.  Maybe a legacy was revised through the story.

About that time Zack walked into the room and Dad said, “Hey Zack, how old are you now?”   You know the rest of the story.

Last weekend I asked Zack how his post-graduation job at Deloitte was going, to which he replied, “Just earning my keep, whatever that means,” – and now you know the rest of that story.

© Will Morris, JD, LLM 2014

Reading and Living a Legacy – Send a Book to a Friend – The Aloha Spirit Continues

The Aloha Spirit is frequently experienced through the words we read as well as the words we write.  Legacy planning is transformed by incorporating both; after reading a book that offers a special insight, feeling or memory, write a personal inscription and then send it to a friend. Your words will be forever embossed on their heart, soul, and spirit, further enhancing an evolutionary legacy.  You will notice that the Aloha Spirit fills you and your friends with gratitude and a common core that manifests itself in connectedness, kindness, love, compassion and joy.  Your estate planning will certainly take care of your stuff when you die, but a living legacy is created in and for the present – and books create a powerful and enduring medium.   

For me, the literary legacy experience was intensely highlighted subsequent to the turn of the 2014 calendar.  First, I received a copy of A Mindful Nation: How a Simple Practice Can Help Us Reduce Stress, Improve Performance, and Recapture the American Spirit by Congressman Tim Ryan of Ohio.  Prior to receiving this surprising gift from Ceseli (a friend of almost 50 years), “mindfulness” was not on my radar or my reading list, and yet she intuitively knew that I would enjoy it.  Suddenly, articles about mindfulness seemed to appear every day: Time magazine highlighted mindfulness on the cover of its February 3, 2014 issue; and the Huffington Post featured a pre-Super Bowl article on the Seattle Seahawks' use of mindfulness.  I started thinking, "If mindfulness made their defense the best in the NFL, then I am all in," and started meditating daily.  Thank you, Ceseli.

Ceseli could have simply read the book then placed it gently on the shelf or table in her home where her books go to rest – end of story.  Or, she could have composed a short e-mail, “Hey Will, you might like this book,"  and pressed “send” thereby discharging all further responsibility for my enlightenment, with only the hope that I would follow her tendered proposal.   But, with mindful intention, she purchased the book with the added inscription, “Will, Help us build AMN! –Tim Ryan”.  That was pretty cool.  But Ceseli was not yet finished enhancing our mutual legacies.  She too penned the following: “Will, you are already one of the most mindful people I know……..Aloha and Blessings, Ceseli.”  Even cooler.  But to gain the superlative, the coolest discovery was that Ceseli had already read the same copy of the book before entrusting it to the US Postal Service for the journey to Texas.  With this foundation well in place, all I had to do was light the fireplace on a Sunday morning and turn the pages.  And to take coolest to a new level, my wife and best friend, Lisa, is now reading the book by the fireplace, our dog Izzy sitting at her feet, and a cup of Kona coffee at her side.  I am having a great day watching her enjoy and extend the legacy. 

Already in the glow of that literary triumph, the UPS man arrived a few days later with a package from Blake, one of my oldest and dearest friends, with whom I share a loving bond with baseball.  Enclosed was another book, The Kid – The Immortal Life of Ted Williams, the latest and most complete biography of one of the greatest hitters of all time.  If anything defines my soul, it is baseball, and no living person knows that better than Blake. 

I already knew a lot about Ted Williams, whose legendary career ended when I was eight years old.  Although the book adds stories and perspectives on a very complex man, the literary content of the book may not, in and of itself, be life-changing , but the soulful spirit that inspired Blake to share it with me has added a legacy-enhancing moment to our friendship. We can look forward to new conversations to follow about baseball, our dads, and our friend Carey, all of whom now live only through our stories.

Blake chose not to inscribe the book itself, perhaps out of respect for its virgin purity or possibly freeing me to forward to someone else (a very green and sustainable thought).  But it did include a personal note attached to the inside cover, the last paragraph of which I have read over and over again.  Blake explained that there was one other person to whom he thought of sending the book, with the following caveat, “He came in a distant second…but mostly because in terms of love and friendship, I treasure you more."  WOW, that expresses ALOHA and LEGACY in capital letters.  Thank you, Blake.

Amid this literary stimulus, Lisa and I attended a book signing for Jane Pauley’s new book, Your Life Calling – Reimagining the Rest of Your Life, a Baby Boomer Bible, if you will.  With the synchronicity of the calendar, this book was a perfect gift for Ceseli, whose birthday was just a few days away.  We purchased two copies of the book.  Jane inscribed one copy to “Will and Lisa” and a second copy to “Ceseli”.  Possessed of two copies, Lisa and I sat in front of our fireplace and read the book in total communion with each other before inscribing the second copy with a note to Ceseli, further annotated throughout with blue sticky notes.

These are not the first books I have received from friends or family nor the first I have dispatched to special people in similar fashion.  However, these are the first books I have held with a clear understanding that I was reading more than just the text.  By endorsement, I was sharing a piece of who I am with others who are equally willing to share a piece of who they are with me.  LEGACY and ALOHA – ALOHA and LEGACY. 

Literary Legacy Planning Tip   Going forward, as you read a book, become aware of a friend to whom you might ultimately promote the text with a mindful intention and personal inscription.  In doing so, notice how your reading evolves into a shared experience of Aloha.  You will feel as though you are reading the book with them knowing that they will soon be reading it with you.  I believe it is much more soulful when you send them the same book you read so that they will turn the very pages that you enjoyed.  If you wish to retain a copy on your desk or night stand, buy a second copy.  Even if you envision sharing your experience with more than one friend, always add a personal inscription and maybe a note at a special chapter.  I laced my book to Ceseli with blue sticky notes that highlighted my favorite quotes and references.

Some of my dearest friends are writers and I cherish the books they have written and forwarded to me with their handwritten message.  I loved their books upon first reading,  but today’s mindful reflection is with an even broader soulfulness and awareness of our shared living legacy.  Mahalo and  Aloha to Bob, Tom, Mark and Mindy – I will continue to share your literary talents and insights with people you may never meet, but your words will be a part of my legacy, as well as yours.

The Aloha Book™  The Aloha Book™ is a collaborative project that I am writing that seeks to redefine and blend the traditional concept of estate planning (your stuff) with legacy planning (your relationships).  I want people to enjoy “living” a legacy not just “leaving” a legacy.   

© Will Morris, JD, LLM 2014

Living a Legacy: Friendships - Expansion of the Aloha Book™

Death of a Salesman

Don’t Be This Guy – “Sorry Dude?”

At the end of your life, your legacy will not be the plaques on the wall or trophies on the shelf. Quite frankly, such items will be placed in a box,  shuffled among dusty venues bearing such historically romantic names as  "garage," "attic" or "storage building," only to be disposed of one day in response to the inevitable question, “What do I with this stuff?"  My wife affectionately calls it "clutter."  Your greater legacy will be those relationships upon which a special value is assessed.

The genesis of the Aloha Book™ was to memorialize a legacy for children and grandchildren.  Yet, I realize that so much of who I am has been defined by cherished friendships, many from childhood and high school. Some of these friendships have been dormant for decades, as friends established new roots and raised families from Buzzards Bay to Haunama Bay, from Fort Lauderdale to Fort Shafter, from New York City to Pearl City and from Boston Harbor to Pearl Harbor.  

With mindful intention, I encourage you to consider your legacy through two different filters - “leaving a legacy” and “living a legacy." Connecting the dots of our past that illuminate our present paths can create a beautiful legacy among our beloved families and friends.  (Thank you for that thought, Ceseli – you are a cherished dot.)

Living a legacy is the restoration and enhancement of old friendships into more reflective adult relationships, connecting the past with the present.   That foundational trust and heart connection offers a gifted introduction to the present and the sharing of newly invited wisdom.  A living legacy is experienced and enjoyed in real time and preserves an eternal exchange of knowledge portals that need no other filters.

Here are a few of my living legacy suggestions.

Friendship Bucket List - Make a list of treasured friends who live in parts of the country, away from where you first met, and then schedule a vacation on their new home turf.  Your visit can be as simple as scheduling a lunch or dinner while exploring the area on your own OR more deeply sharing all of your time together as you become part of their ohana, and explore a new place from a local perspective.  In turn, make it very clear that your old friends are invited to share the same perspective in your home.

New additions to my friendship bucket list in 2014 include: Mystic, Connecticut; Billings, Montana; Scottsdale, Arizona; and Walnut Creek, California.

Birthday Card List – Make a list of birthdays for special friends and mark them on your calendar with a one week reminder alarm.  You will be surprised how many you can remember just off the top of your head.  Other birthdates can be found on Facebook and LinkedIn.  Don’t just send them a Facebook post or E-card – send them a real birthday card and write something meaningful!  It is no excuse to say you did not have the chance to get a card.  Start building an inventory of birthday cards by purchasing two or three cards each time you go to the grocery store or drug store.  When you travel, check out the cards at the airports, restaurants, or truck stops.  All tourist locations have multiple shops with cards expressing a local flavor or humor.  Buy a mixture of cards that are humorous, old fashioned, or with a much deeper meaning; you will know which cards fit which friends and that are gender appropriate.  

WHO Friday – Adopt the practice of “WHO Friday” as proposed by my friend Bob Beaudine, the author of “The Power of Who” (a must read   Bob defines your “WHO” as those people “WHO” matter most in your life – “someone who knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words.”  Bob has designated Friday as a day to reach out and call one of your WHO and let them know the special place they hold in your life.  Try it, you will like it – start connecting the dots. 

Take it one step further and celebrate “Aloha Friday." Take a moment to relax, wear your favorite Aloha shirt, and transition into the weekend, grateful for your old friends and the opportunity to create new memories.  Your legacy planning and Aloha Book™ will add even greater context to the WHO in your life.

Mindful Monday – Set an intention of mindfulness for the week that leads to a WHO Friday and Aloha Friday celebration of the “living legacy” way.

Imagine Your Eulogy - How will your friends remember you?  How do you want to be remembered? And, conversely, how will you remember your friends?  If you have a difficult time answering either question, you are not yet living your legacy.  As you answer those questions, you will know who to visit, who to write, and who to call.  They have been waiting.

© Will Morris, JD, LLM 2014

Legacy Planning With The Aloha Spirit - Your Aloha Book™

Hawaiian Burial at Sea

"Ua Mau Ke Ea O Ka Aina I Ka Pono" is the Hawaii State motto, translated to mean – “The Life of the Land is Perpetuated in Righteousness”.   It seems to me, that your life and your legacy should be perpetuated with the same righteousness, respect, and mindfulness – I call this “legacy planning” – a focused derivative of traditional estate planning.

"Aloha" is a wonderfully gracious word of many meanings that uniquely expresses both “hello” and “goodbye."  It is a state of mind that peacefully, generously, and lovingly connects our spirit to our families, our friends, our community, and our environment.   Feeling complete, living fully, and mindfully planning for our future and that of our family creates an integrated bond with the peace of mind we seek through legacy planning and estate planning.  

Kawika is a cherished friend of many years, with whom I share a connection to Hawaii and Punahou School.  During a recent visit, he confided that his doctor had confirmed his diagnoses of Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS).  With questionable bedside manner, the doctor suggested that Kawika start putting together a “Death Book” with instructions to his family about his finances, location of documents, and expressions of intent.  Although recognizing the wisdom of the strategy, Kawika promptly rejected the idea of a “death” book and turned his attention to creating his own Aloha Book™

Kawika said his Aloha Book™ would say “hello” by memorializing his life through an expression of his stories, values, family history, pictures, and world view.  He will also start to say “goodbye” and express his feelings about his disease, his wishes for his children and grandchildren, and a reflection on his legacy. He wants to add perspective to key life events with his children - understanding that common facts may have born strikingly different interpretations, when viewed through the diverse filters of a parent and child.

ALS, cancer, and other terminable diseases are unexpected intrusions into our life cycle and yet function as dramatic calls for reflection and connection our own spirit of Aloha.  We become “mindful” of who we are, what values we live by, what makes us laugh, what stirs our heart and soul, and how we would like to pass that on to our children, grandchildren, and friends.  Mindfulness brings the same peace of mind to our spirit that one should achieve through their estate planning and legacy planning.

There is no objective blessing in being diagnosed with a life threatening or terminal illness - and yet, as I have noticed from too many friends in recent years, it does force one to carve out the time to get organized.  It invites a discussion about things that have perpetually been stored in the back of their mind, not knowing when they might be brought forward.  Unfortunately “later” is never a good planning strategy.

As usually happens after Kawika and I share a cup of Kona coffee, I walked away smarter, more insightful and dedicated to the idea of an expanded Aloha Book™ - an enhancement to the estate planning process, and more particularly legacy planning.  Legacy planning involves a recognition that in the big picture, “who” we are is more important than the “stuff” we have.

CALL TO ACTION - For those who die or lose their abilities suddenly, the opportunity for such reflective time may never arise.  It will forever remain on their virtual “to do” list, only to be buried in secret with them - in turn robbing friends and family of a very special gift.  I therefore encourage everybody to get in touch with the Aloha Spirit – craft your thoughts around saying “hello” and “goodbye” and start outlining your Aloha Book™.  Be prepared to start and edit it often.  Say A-LO----HA and start the reflection as you exhale – then start typing.   

YES, YOU DO HAVE THE TIMEApproach your Aloha Book™ as your personal journal.  Certainly enough people share their thoughts, feelings, views, and pictures with friends and non-friends on Facebook and other social media every day without the mindfulness that it also expresses their legacy.  You don’t have to write your Aloha Book™ in chronological order and certainly not in one sitting – it is an evolutionary process.  As you share stories with friends and family during your lifetime, start to memorialize them in your Aloha Book™ with additional insights and reflection.  Ask yourself, “Why am I telling this story?" Consider turning part of your Aloha Book™ into a video with your favorite music or giving your Aloha Book™ a video introduction.

GET STARTED - I am starting my Aloha Book™ in solidarity with Kawika, while acknowledging a special gratefulness for bringing the Aloha Spirit into a welcomed context.  To help get you started, I am sharing my broad outline below, with the assurance of future editing.  I will fill in the narrative in random order as the Aloha Spirit moves me.

  • Family history and genealogy – stories and pictures from my parents and grandparents.  How their world view shaped my world view.
  • Reflections on my childhood - as I recall it then and as I view it now.
  • High school, college, and law school – open, frank, and unedited.  Highlighting special friends and experiences.  Good decisions and bad decisions. Discussion of key world events from the ‘60’s and 70’s – haircuts - my world view then and how I view it today.
  • How I met my wife – And for my boys, how I met your mother. Personal reflections of 30+ years of marriage. 
  • The joys of being a father – personal reflections for each of my boys.  Discussion of key life events – their joys, successes, and disappointments – as I perceived them and as I think they perceived them.   
  • Influential people in my life – I have made a list of the 20 most influential men and women in my life.  Many are friends, some are mentors, and a few surprises.
  • My global world view and my specific views on religion, faith, family, and politics and how they evolved over time.  My heroes, if any.
  • A brief discussion of people and things I don’t like.  Hopefully this will change and be reconciled before I finish as I mindfully say “thank you” and move on.
  • I am going through thousands of pictures and slides and recording the most meaningful ones on a CD that I can share with family with my own narrative.  For those who visit Facebook often, imagine a lifetime of “Throwback Thursdays”.
  • The legacy I hope to leave – from my perspective.

BOOK TO FOLLOWThis blog offers an insight into my overall philosophy of taking a complementary and holistic approach to the lifetime features of estate planning.  I have started writing a new book that offers a creative way to enjoy the process of saying “hello” and “good-bye”.  I will start highlighting key features in subsequent blogs.  I welcome your comments along the journey.  ALOHA. 

 © Will Morris, JD, LLM 2014

Turn Your Estate Plan Into A System That Works

Estate Documents

Historically, most people think of an estate plan as a “Simple Will” which turns into a dusty old document tucked away in a safe deposit box, safe, or desk drawer, creating a false sense of comfort.  As a document without force or effect until after death, it risks becoming a dead and incomplete expression of intent:  never changing despite a succession of life events such as marriage or remarriage, birth of children and grandchildren, changes in wealth or inheritance, divorce, loss of a spouse, or dramatic change in health or disability.  A lonely Will, without an accompanying system, just lays there waiting for you to die and hoping that your executor and heirs can locate and identify all of your assets. 

However, the following statistics suggest that writing a Will is only part of the process.  A provision that your spouse or children will receive “all of your estate” is meaningless if they don’t know what you own or where to find it.  It is also confers no benefit if you become incapacitated and all of that information stored in your head cannot be recovered.

  • Over $1 Billion in life insurance proceeds are unclaimed because beneficiaries didn’t know the policy existed.  Consumer Reports, February 2013
  • Over $16 Billion in unredeemed US Treasury Bonds.  Elisabeth Leamy via Good Morning America, June 15, 2011.
  • Over $33 Billion in unclaimed property and cash.  National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators.

A record of online accounts is crucial to a system, (Online Accounts – Where is Your Cheese?  March 1, 2013) but I find that a significant number of clients just don’t do the computer thing.  And of course some assets are not necessarily managed online - an old life insurance policy, real estate owned in Hawaii, family burial plot in Arkansas, gold coins or savings bonds in a safe deposit box, stock certificates in a passive business venture, or mineral leases in Wyoming. 

Granted, a “Simple Will” may be simple on the front end, but it won’t resolve calamitous complications and failed expectations on the back end.  Sometimes the old cliché “you get what you pay for” becomes a haunting reality.  You need to finish the job, set some time aside and incorporate the following items into your planning system.  I suggest storing the information all in one place, preferably on a thumb drive.

  • List of digital assets, logins, and passwords.
  • List of all assets and where they are located, with supporting documentation such as deeds.
  • List of people to call or contact in the event of a serious illness or death: avoid hurt feelings among family and friends.
  • List of your planning professionals:  attorney, CPA, financial planner/wealth manager, insurance agents, human resources director, etc.
  • List of all partnerships, joint ventures, LLC’s, and closely held business interests: names of all partners and co-owners; copies of buy-sell agreements.
  • List of all insurance policies and policy numbers:  home, auto, personal umbrella, jewelry, life, disability, long term care.
  • Copies of tax returns: personal and business
  • Durable Power of Attorney: who will transact business if you are incapacitated?
  • Medical Power of Attorney: attach names of doctors, list of medications, and allergies.  Good idea to have this for aging parents and children as well.
  • HIPAA Authorization: overcome privacy concerns with health care professionals.  Needed for aging parents and adult children.
  • Directive to Physicians (Living Will):  Discuss end of life decisions with family
  • Guardian for minor children:  Give this some thought and discuss with children over 12.
  • Guardian for yourself in the event of later incapacity:  Who will make decisions about your physical custody if you are unable to do so?
  • Agent to Control Disposition of Remains: Funeral Instructions; eliminate the possibility of family disputes  such as  burial or cremation, open or closed,  which family cemetery, music, scripture, eulogy. 
  • Personal Property Memorandum: Designate your preferences or make gifts during your lifetime. Trust me, families fight over jewelry and heirlooms, family pictures, antiques and collectibles. Sentimentality often trumps reason and value and can create resentment for decades. 
  • Start going through old family pictures: Make digital copies so everybody has a copy.  Go one step further and pick out the pictures you would like displayed at your funeral or memorial service.

The goal of a system is to plan a smooth transition of responsibility and management and distribution of assets in the event of illness, disability, or death.  If it seems like a lot of work to you, just imagine how overwhelming it would be for a spouse or children after you are gone.  It is clearly easier for you to make decisions and create your system now, without any acute time pressures, than it will be for your family, who may have only hours or days to figure it out.

Make a system part of your legacy.

© Will Morris, JD, LLM 2014

Who Will Do Your Eulogy?

My best friend of the last thirty years passed away on March 4th after a long and courageous battle with cancer.  In general, CANCER SUCKS - but Carey understood that he had the opportunity to say “hello” and “good-bye” as well as time to reflect and plan. 

When living in Arkansas, Carey and I got together every day, either for coffee, lunch, or a beer after work.  We spent long hours together coaching baseball and defining the meaning of life.  This was before cell phones, e-mail, or Facebook.  We took many “guy trips” to watch our beloved Cardinals play baseball in St. Louis or spring training in Florida. 

We consulted each other on the most important personal and business decisions in our lives.  We talked baseball for hours and agreed most of the time (except whether Pete Rose should be in the Hall of Fame).  He always addressed me as “Hey Coach” and his last words to me were, “Love you, Coach”.  We talked a lot of politics and we rarely agreed, but it was always enlightening and respectful.  I was always a little smarter after talking to Carey.  As to politics, he once said we were 160 degree opposites (allowing some measure for agreement).

After I moved to Texas, we talked on the phone several times a week and e-mailed every day.

Carey gave a lot of thought to his legacy – not so much the fun and endearing stories his friends would tell about him (there are many) – but instead whether his world view would be adequately understood and expressed in the proper context.  He knew that one day he would never send another e-mail or make another phone call.  He chose to outline that part of his eulogy – HIS final words to his friends. 

Carey selected Jim to give his eulogy, which Jim delivered with the following caveat:  “I was not Carey’s first choice to give his eulogy.  In fact, Carey hired me, fired me, and rehired me more than once.  His first choice was Will Morris, but Carey feared he was ‘too damn liberal’ to express his world view.”  We all laughed with complete understanding.  (I did have my opportunity to speak, as Carey knew that I would).

THIS IS MY POINT – Carey admitted what we all think about.  Who will give our eulogy and what will they say?  We may not all have several months to reflect as Carey did, so here is my advice and a little guidance, regardless of your age. 

  1. Write down the names of the people (or multiple people) that you could best capture your life for others.  Make a note of why? 
  2. Start writing a memoir or thoughts that are important to you and that you would like to share with your family or friends.  If you have a hard time getting started, look at some of your postings on Facebook, e-mails to close friends, books you have read, or entries in a journal. 

Tom Sawyer had the unique opportunity to attend his own funeral and hear his eulogy.  Since that is not possible for most of us, offer some input while you are alive.  Trust me, it can be fun – and always with a glass of wine. 

Your Generational Planning System is not complete without letting friends and family hearing from you one last time.

© Will Morris, JD, LLM 2014

Who Are They Going to Call?

Have you ever been shocked to find out that a childhood friend, high school classmate, fraternity brother/sorority sister, or co-worker has been battling cancer or passed away weeks, months, or years earlier – AND NOBODY TOLD YOU?  Did you feel sad, disconnected, offended, or angry?  Would you have called or visited during their illness or gone to the funeral, sent flowers, written a card, or called the family?  Would you have called other old friends to let them know?  If so, don’t you think your friends would feel the same way?

An old friend recently visited from Arkansas for the weekend.  On Saturday we gathered for dinner with one of his oldest friends from childhood, high school, and college, also living in Dallas.  Although I had never met Ted, among the three of us we shared an elaborate network of common friends, experiences, and Razorback football lore.  It was one of those evenings when you would say, “I can’t believe we never met.”

As we told the embellished stories of years gone by, I referred to one of my closest friends, whom I knew to be a common friend.  Ted’s face lit up with a big smile at the mention of his name and said, “Carey is one of my oldest and dearest friends from high school and college.  I would love to see him - how in the world is he doing?”  Somewhat startled, I looked across the table at Blake and we stared at each other for a few awkward moments – hoping that the other would respond.  Finally, Blake offered, “Carey died of cancer in March….uh, I can’t believe nobody told you.”   

There was a still silence as Ted’s face processed the emotions of surprise, sadness, and disappointment.  I felt an uneasy guilt for suddenly changing the mood – but how did I know?  I could tell that Blake was quizzing himself as to why Ted didn’t know. 

The first thing Blake said as we drove home, “Did you see the look on Ted’s face when we told him about Carey?”  We acknowledged that there were scores upon scores of people that could have taken on that task of contacting Ted.  Then, with an increased measure of concern we wondered if that could happen again, and to whom. 

Just a few months earlier, my mother had not been notified of the death of one of her closest friends of over 80 years.  My mother was devastated and for days asked, “Why didn’t anybody call me?”  She worried that the family would have also wondered, “I can’t believe that Mary Janice didn’t come to the funeral or at least call”.

As part of your generational planning system, you need to include an e-mail or phone tree of people that should be contacted in the event of a serious illness or death.  Trust me, it can be a great disappointment when others are not informed. 

Like any other planning – do it while you are healthy and make it fun.  Get started by putting on some music that you like, and have a glass of wine.  Here are a few prompts for adding a person to your contact list throughout the year:

  • You receive a birthday notice or birthday greeting on Facebook
  • You receive a connection request on LinkedIn
  • You receive a Christmas card, birth announcement, wedding invitation, or graduation invitation.

Break your life up into the following categories and designate a contact person for each category.  Designate those who should receive a personal phone call and those for whom an e-mail is sufficient. Protocols for this methodology have changed and are age and generationally based – so be aware of sensitivities.  My mother expected a phone call.  Use these categories as a template. Although there may be overlap, consider who would reach the most people.  For example, there are five people from high school that my wife must absolutely contact directly - I know that they will spread the word.

  • Family (Yours and Spouses)
  • Childhood Friends
  • High School Friends
  • College Friends
  • Church Friends
  • Other Personal Friends
  • Friends you have worked with
  • Friends through your kids activities

Send me an e-mail and let me know how it goes. 

© Will Morris, JD, LLM 2014

George Clooney – The Descendents – And Your Estate Plan

I grew up as a teenager in Hawaii and graduated from Punahou School, a prestigious private school in Honolulu.  The author of the Descendants is a Punahou graduate and her father, Fred Hemmings, Jr. was a football star and world champion surfer that graduated a few years ahead of me.  Her uncle, Aka Hemmings graduated a year after me.  I have known the Hemmings for over forty years

Several scenes were filmed on campus and one prominent scene was filmed at the home of an old Punahou friend (who also played a small part).  The dialogue includes several references to key characters as being Punahou students and graduates.  Not surprisingly, I knew I was going to enjoy the movie the simply because of my strong connection to Hawaii. 

So what does that have to do with estate planning?  Amidst the beautiful scenery and George Clooney (Matt King is his character), the movie addresses several estate planning themes about which I am often asked. 

Directive to Physicians (Living Will) – The movie starts with Matt King’s wife (Elizabeth King, played by Patricia Hastie) in a coma from a head injury sustained in a boating accident off of Waikiki Beach.  She had signed the Hawaii equivalent of a Directive to Physicians, providing that she did not want to be kept alive by artificial means.  That seemed simple enough, but as the characters developed and the many themes and family conflicts unfolded, the Directive to Physicians proved to be a final expression of love and respect.  Without this Directive the family could have faced challenges similar to the seven year legal battle that embroiled the Terri Schiavo family in Florida a few years ago.  It is assumed that Elizabeth had also executed a Durable Power of Attorney, Medical Power of Attorney, and HIPAA Authorization to facilitate the handling of her affairs.

Living Trust – Another theme of the movie revolves around 25,000 acres on the island Kaua’i that has been held in trust and preserved in its pristine natural state for decades. Matt is the trustee of the trust and facing the pressure of a long line of descendants who want to sell the land for a multi-million dollar windfall.  Although this is an extreme circumstance, it illustrates how a trust can be used to control the timing of the distribution of property beyond the death of the trust creator (subject to the Rule Against Perpetuities).  A trust is most often used to hold and invest assets for the benefit of children and delay large distributions until the children are older and more mature. 

Memorial Instructions and Funeral Arrangements - After Elizabeth’s death, Matt and his daughters spread her ashes in the ocean off the beach at Waikiki, representing her love of the ocean.  However, in some families a dispute could arise between selecting (i) a traditional burial or cremation, or (ii) if cremated -preserving the ashes or spreading them at a favorite location.  The Texas Health and Safety Code, Section 711.002 provides for the written Appointment of Agent to Control Disposition of Remains to minimize such disputes.  It is important to express your wishes in writing, particularly in blended families or unique situations.

Rule Against Perpetuities – It is not an easy rule to understand but was a predominant theme in the movie – so here is a topic for casual conversation.  Although some states have abandoned or expanded the rule, Texas preserves this rule for non charitable trusts.  The rule provides that property cannot be held in trust forever.  At some point title must be finalized by permanent ownership, not later than 21 years after the life of a person that exists at the time of the trust interest was created. 

Every family has a different set of facts, but the problems solved by proper generational planning remain the same. 

© Will Morris, JD, LLM 2014