Do you know what the three leading causes of death are in the United States? Many people correctly guess cancer and heart disease as numbers one and two. What is number 3? Accidents? Alzheimer’s? Strokes?
You may be surprised to learn that the third leading cause of death in America is medical malpractice! The doctor’s fault? Nope, our fault. We go to the hospital totally unprepared. Ten percent of Americans over the age of 65 will take 11 different prescription drugs this year. Imagine that you are in an accident and brought to the hospital. The hospital administers a pain reliever and the combination of what you are taking and what they have given you kills you.
Have you ever had a heart attack? Do you carry nitroglycerine with you? Have you been warned that the combination of Cialis and Nitro will also kill you? Is this a risk you are willing to take? Or maybe when they ask you what prescriptions you are taking, you mispronounce Omicor when you meant Amicar.
Yes, medical malpractice is the third leading cause in America. We don’t want this to happen to you. Here are 5 resolutions to help you get your house in order.
1. Don’t go to the hospital unprepared. Do you remember the story of Terri Schiavo? At 26, Terri had a massive coronary and was resuscitated but experienced irreversible brain damage that left her in a coma. Fifteen years later, the Supreme Court made the final decision to remove the feeding tube. This long-term ordeal would not have happened if a simple healthcare directive and a living will had been in place. We frequently encounter a misconception that healthcare directives are only for older adults. We’ve seen clients experience unexpected, life-changing circumstances at all ages and believe that healthcare directives should be a priority for everyone. Please don’t let this happen to you or a loved one.
2. Sign a healthcare directive and living will. What do Steve McNair, Abraham Lincoln, Pablo Picasso, and the musician Prince have in common? They all died without a will. Steve McNair’s mother was removed from the house he had given her because there was no will to prove that he had given it to her, which presumably was his intent. Having this document is essential to ensure your wishes are carried out, but it is one of the most frequently postponed documents to be put into writing. Your will protects you and ensures that your future wishes for your estate are carried out. According to the Virtual Attorney, 32% of Americans would rather do their taxes or get a root canal than create or update their will! Even though we are not attorneys, we can help you facilitate this. Let us help you get your house in order.
3. Create or update your will and update your beneficiary designations. In 2005, Anne Friedman, a former school principal, died suddenly of a massive heart attack. She accumulated over $900,000 in her Teachers’ Retirement Fund but never named anyone as her designated beneficiary. By law, her surviving spouse would have been entitled to the money. However, in 1978, in a previous job, she had filled out a designated beneficiary form naming her mother, her uncle, and her sister as her designated beneficiaries before she was married. Her mother and uncle had since passed away, but her sister was still living. By law, the sister was entitled to the money she received and didn’t share a dime with the now-destitute husband. We see this every day. Proceeds from life insurance, 401(k) plans, and IRAs are regularly being left to the wrong beneficiaries because the owners never thought to update them. Your financial documents must be reviewed regularly and evaluated as your life evolves, particularly when it comes to your beneficiaries. Marriages, divorces, births, deaths, and other major life events can all warrant changes. These documents are too important to leave unattended. Let us review them with you.
4. Regularly review legal/liability documents. Do you own a business? Do you have a real estate investment? Do you have children driving a car? Do you have the proper insurance? Have you fully limited your liability? Are your investments titled appropriately to limit liability? If you have trust documents, title of property, insurance coverage(s), and other liability documents, you also need to be regularly reviewing them. We can help you do this.
5. Create an estate plan. Frederick Vanderbilt, J.D. Rockefeller, JP Morgan, Franklin Roosevelt, and Elvis Presley all died without an estate plan. Please re-read that list. Some of America's most successful, intelligent, and influential people who did so much for so many failed to protect the wealth that they had created. Although we can’t predict the future, it’s essential to have a comprehensive plan in place for how your money and other assets should be distributed when needed. Your life stage will determine the needs of your estate plan. If you’re young and single, your plan may only include a few items, such as a will, beneficiary designations, and medical and financial powers of attorney. If you have substantial wealth, you may need one or more trusts to control how your assets are taxed, managed, and distributed.
It’s critical to remember that financial planning is not solely based on investment planning or picking the right investments. While this must be done correctly, many other vital areas get overlooked or forgotten. Keep your financial house in order by regularly reviewing your plan and ensuring you have the fundamentals. By this time next year, you’ll be glad you did.