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Events That Inspire Estate Planning

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By Stephan A. Lipskis

Frequently clients call our office due to a perceived risk, such as an upcoming surgery or a long-distance vacation. The refrain is usually, “I need to update (or create) my will in case something happens!” Fear of one’s own mortality naturally arises prior to these events because there is always an inherent risk in certain activities. We do move quickly (often within the same day) to get documents in place for our clients when urgent changes are needed, but “Emergency Planning” like this has certain limitations.

Getting core documents in place is the bare minimum needed for estate planning. Doing so provides legal authority and clear direction for your incapacity or death. “Core documents” include a medical directive and general durable power of attorney, which allow for someone to make decisions on your behalf in the event of incapacity. Waiting until the last minute does not provide the time needed to address common issues beyond the core documents, such as correcting beneficiary designations or getting documents approved by financial institutions prior to the perceived emergency. For instance, if a general durable power of attorney is created for a client a day before surgery, there may be a lag in time for the bank to recognize the document in the event the client suffers an incapacity from the procedure. This could prevent the agent named from performing necessary functions. The inability to adequately consider and discuss proposed documents sometimes occurs when estate planning is rushed. Rather than being able to consider a significant amount of information over a period of several days or weeks, the time for contemplation is compressed into a period of hours or a couple of days.

The recent death at 61 of Bill Paxton, the actor famous for his roles in Apollo 13, Twister, Alien, Tombstone, among others, illustrates the very real risk of undergoing surgery. However, accidents consistently ranks in the top 5 causes of death in the United States and, given the way medical errors are reported, it is unlikely that those deaths are adequately represented in the number reported as accidents. Furthermore, the likelihood of a plane crashing is between 1 in 5,000,000 and 1 in 11,000,000 depending on who you ask. That is the likelihood of a “crash” and not the likelihood of incapacity or death due to a crash, which is slightly lower. The point of these figures is not to scare or prevent planning due to trip or surgery, but rather to promote planning before a perceived risk. Frankly, the “scary” things we hear about on the news are highly unlikely to be the things that result in our incapacity or death and each of us needs to have a plan for the risks we do not associate with an impending event.

Our goal in estate planning is legally coordinating your assets to go where you want them, but another goal is also to minimize risk from creditors, incapacity, probate, and other perils. Obviously, failing to plan avoids thinking about the risks bust does not actually avoid any risk. Knowledge of your personal risks empowers you to create a plan that can mitigate that risk. While planning is often seen as costly, the more significant cost is NOT planning. If a risk arises without a plan in place, then significant funds will be expended in a dispute, guardianship action, estate litigation, or other dispute that could have been avoided if planning had been undertaken. Please contact our attorneys to get your plan in place (or updated) so that we won’t be needed later to correct a major problem. If you are experiencing a problem due to a failure to plan, we can help address those concerns as well.

Kit KatAsk Kit Kat – Baby Gators

Hook Law Center:  Kit Kat, what can you tell us about baby alligators at the North Carolina Aquarium?

Kit Kat:  Well, this is a very interesting story! 4 baby alligators have been residing at the North Carolina Aquarium in Manteo for the last two years, but the exhibit with them opened in December 2016. They’re not sure where the alligators are from—probably Florida—because they were acquired after a sting operation on some illegal operators of exotic pet sales. While at the aquarium, they’ve doubled in size and measure 18 inches in length. Ironically, the baby gators have been named Cheese, Turkey, Ham, and Gravy after the diet that their captors fed them. We can laugh now, but if they had continued on such a regime, they would have died prematurely.

The gators are being trained to respond to their given names through the use of distinctive lures. Cheese’s is a yellow star on the end of a pole. Turkey’s lure is a blue-and-white oval on a pole. By combining the lure with calling their name, the gators are taught to touch the lure with their snout. If they do the task correctly, they are rewarded with a piece of fish. Being able to identify each gator correctly, even though they have unique markings, will help staff treat them should they need medical attention. They are also being accustomed to human interaction.

Alligators in North Carolina are beginning to be an issue. The state is their northernmost range, but as people get them as pets when they are only a few inches long, they have tended to release them in streams or ponds in rural areas once they become untenable as a pet. Jeff Hampton, staff writer for The Virginian-Pilot, says, “It is not unusual to see an alligator swimming in a dark roadside canal around East Lake in Dare County. Merchants Millpond State Park in Gates County is home to a small group.”

For now, the 4 baby alligators are doing fine. They’re eating well and being treated to live crickets, which serve as a tasty reward, and as practice for hunting prey. Time will tell whether they remain at the aquarium. Some adult males grow to be as large as 12 feet. Space is one of the prime considerations. Stay tuned for further updates. (Jeff Hampton, “What’s in a name?” NC Aquarium’s baby gators know,” The Virginian-Pilot, Feb. 6, 2017, pg.3)

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Posted on Friday, March 3rd, 2017. Filed under Newsletter.