How to Create Meaningful Memorial Activities

How can estate planning attorneys help families hold meaningful, memorable memorial activities, especially with the restrictions of a global pandemic?

Kyle Tevlin, founder of I Want a Fun Funeral, spoke about “Raising the Bar on Our Funeral Traditions” at the fourth annual Before I Die New Mexico Virtual Festival.

She showed a cartoon featuring two homo sapiens making cave paintings. The father had drawn a stick figure animal and the son had produced an illustration of a deer. The father says, “No Og, no! That’s not how we’ve always done it.”

“This is my analogy for funerals,” Tevlin explained. “We have this picture of what we think is great and we have no idea that there was something so much better, more elegant, and beautiful.”

Tevlin suggests making a memorial service a project that can help make the world a better place, take on a life of its own, and preserve the story of a loved one. She shared the inspiring example of Aaron Collins.

Aaron Collins died on July 7, 2012 at the age of 30. He left a note requesting that his family go out to eat and leave an “awesome tip,” suggesting $500 for a pizza. The experience was recorded and uploaded to YouTube by Aaron’s brother, Seth.

Generous people all over the world donated to reproduce “Aaron’s Last Wish” again and again. More than $60,000 was raised, Seth gave $500 tips to more than 100 waiters and waitresses. As a result, Aaron’s life story gets told over and over.

“From sadness and tragedy, now his family gets to talk about that loss with joy, a smile, and Aaron becomes a superhero who makes people happy,” said Tevlin. “This all only happened because Aaron Collins wrote this down ahead of time. The family only planned to do it once, but that’s all the more reason to do something little, because you don’t know where it’s going to take you.”

Tips for Engaging Memorial Actions

So, what do you do to be an engaged creator of a good goodbye? Tevlin recommends these seven tips to raise the bar on our funeral traditions.

  1. Brainstorm an objective for what you will do to honor a person. Find a theme, a vision related to the essence of that person. An objective makes it easier for people to contribute, participate, and generate a wonderful memory.
  2. Make your person’s personality shine, keyed to a hobby, passion, trait or quirk everyone will recognize. It can be fun or solemn, anything that is fitting.
  3. Decide the scope of the tribute, from an event for immediate family to a global affair on the Internet. Bigger isn’t necessarily better, but step outside your comfort zone a bit for a greater reward.
  4. “Roll Up Your Sleeves” means DIY as much as possible, enlisting the talents, contributions, creative ideas and resources within your circle. Involvement is where the bonding happens.
  5. Enjoy the process. While sadness is unavoidable, these activities should bring joy. It’s a way of thanking the person for being in your life, warming your heart and providing an uplifting feeling.
  6. Perfection is not required. Do what you can in whatever way you can, generating personal engagement and emotional connections.
  7. There’s no time limit. Whatever the action or event, it does not need to be done immediately. It can easily be held on an anniversary, birthday, or other meaningful date.

Whatever is done in honor of a loved one, make it an event. Give it a name. Almost any activity can be made into a contest, which is practically guaranteed to be fun and memorable.

What the 2020 Election Could Mean for Your Estate Plan

How did the 2020 elections shape the political landscape and what does that changed landscape mean for your estate plan? First, at the top of the ticket, it appears Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are the new President-Elect and Vice-President Elect, with an apparent 306 electoral votes to Donald Trump and Mike Pence’s apparent 232 electoral votes. Democrats retained control of the House of Representatives, although with a narrower majority.

The Senate is a more complicated matter. Republicans control 50 seats and Democrats control 48 seats in the Senate. Both Senate seats in Georgia will be up for runoff elections on January 5, 2021. There are Republican incumbents in both seats and the Democrats have an uphill battle to defeat them in runoff elections. However, if Democrats prevail in both runoff elections, the Senate would be tied with 50 Republicans and 50 Democrats and, beginning January 20, 2021, Vice President Kamala Harris would be the tie-breaking vote to give Democrats the majority in the Senate.

With Democrats in control of the Presidency, the Senate, and the House, they might be able to enact legislation similar to then-candidate Joe Biden’s Tax Plan. That plan included a reduction of the amount which could be passed free of estate tax from the current $11.58 million to $3.5 million. The Biden plan also called for increasing income tax rates and capital gains tax rates, as well as other changes.

What could this mean for you and your family? If you have assets that could be over $3.5 million by your death, this could mean you’d owe an estate tax of 40% on those assets above $3.5 million. You may be able to plan now to take advantage of the current exclusion of $11.58 million. (Note, even without Congressional action, under current law the current exclusion will be cut in half at the end of 2025.)

A possible Democrat-controlled government could change the estate tax exclusion retroactive to January 1, 2021. So, you’d need to act in 2020 to be certain to avoid a possible reduction in the exclusion. You could do this by gifting outright to your children or other beneficiaries. However, by gifting to a trust, you could protect them and the assets from creditors, divorcing spouses, and their own mismanagement. If you’re married, you could gift the assets to an irrevocable trust for your spouse’s benefit. Such trusts could distribute for the benefit of the beneficiaries under the distribution terms you’ve specified, such as for their health, education, maintenance, and support.

If you believe income tax rates will be higher in 2021, you might consider recognizing income in 2020 or deferring deductions to 2021 when they might be more valuable.

Preparing for the Unexpected…and the Eventual

All of us face difficulties and tragedies in our lives. Some of these difficulties are expected and some are unexpected. 2020 has been a year of many unexpected difficulties. While all of us get sick from time to time, nobody anticipated the COVID-19 pandemic. Over 9 million Americans have caught the disease, resulting in the deaths of over 230,000 Americans.

Apart from coronavirus, there are many unexpected tragedies, such as 795,000 Americans suffering a stroke each year, according to the CDC. Another 805,000 Americans experience a heart attack each year, according to the CDC. Additionally, automobile accidents claim about 39,000 lives in the United States annually and injure many more.

Further, there are many lesser-known ways to face tragedy or death. An example is an amoeba that can eat the brain. While rare, the amoeba can come from the soil or water and can be lethal.

Few of us know exactly when or how we will face tragedy or death. But we know that we are all mortal and so we know we will face death eventually.

We may not be able to protect ourselves from everything, but we can prepare now for whatever might happen. Do your estate planning now. That way, when tragedy strikes, you’ll be prepared. If you’re prepared, it will be much easier for your loved ones.

To prepare, consider:

  • A Property Power of Attorney in which you appoint someone, your “Agent,” to handle your property if you are unable to do so yourself.
  • A Healthcare Power of Attorney in which you appoint an Agent to make medical decisions for you, if you are unable to make those decisions for yourself.
  • A HIPAA power which gives people whom you designate, such as your Agent, access to your protected health information.
  • A Revocable Trust to allow management of assets during life and at death. Such a trust allows the avoidance of the delays and expense of probate, which vary from state to state. Through this trust and the PourOver Will discussed below, you can spell out how you want your assets distributed to your beneficiaries to help them the most.
  • A PourOver Will which sends any remaining assets to the Revocable Trust at your death and nominates guardians for any minor children.

Once you have all your ducks in a row, you’ll be ready for whatever life has in store for you, even a year like 2020!