Musings on a Road Trip
On a recent Saturday morning, I was up early and reading the previous day’s newspaper when I noticed an article about a bear festival in North Carolina in a small town about 2 hours south of here. The article mentioned that you could sign up at the festival to go on a trip to a nearby national wildlife refuge where there is a large population of black bears. “Guaranteed sightings” they claimed. On a whim, I gathered my husband and son, and we made a road trip to the wildlife refuge for no reason other than I like bears and I needed a break. So off we went.
Now mind you, we were totally unprepared for this trip. However, my son and husband, being good scouts, managed to get bug repellant and some rain gear packed into the car while I somewhat impatiently milled around trying to hurry them along. I made sandwiches. We brought some sodas for lunch. Yep, everything you need to ward off a hungry black bear that you happen to meet on the trail. Luckily for us (though I was highly disappointed), we did not meet any bears in the woods that Saturday.
On the way home, I got to thinking about what could have happened if we had run into a bear (a real bear, not a cute “Smokey the Bear” bear). My complete lack of planning and false sense of omnipotence could have turned out very badly for me and my family. You see, I haven’t updated my estate plan since my first child was born almost two decades ago and we lived in another state. (You will have heard the tale about the cobbler’s children having no shoes….) My estate plan is sufficiently old that it has estate tax planning that is totally unnecessary and cumbersome to deal with. And it creates a trust for my children that ends far sooner than I would like now. Further, because of differences in the probate process of the two states, my ideal Virginia estate plan would incorporate a revocable trust. Finally, my mother has passed away since my Will was drafted, and I have a limited power of appointment that I would like to exercise. While my Will is valid in Virginia, it no longer meets my goals. And do not get me started on my old power of attorney.
I think many of us live our lives in some ways much like my impromptu trip. We assume all will be well, because we do not want to think about the alternative. But the reality is that planning for your end of life should not be done on a whim or even done once and then never re-visited. Being unprepared for one’s death, one of the few things in life that WILL happen, makes no sense, whether you are a senior or just starting out in life. Everyone needs to be prepared in the event that a whim, an accident, a major medical issue or stroke of bad luck changes your life, and you suddenly need someone to help you with medical or financial decisions, or your loved ones are left to clean up as best they can, because you had no testamentary plan or (like me) an old testamentary plan. No one plans for these sorts of events to happen; they just do. We plan to mitigate the consequences of the events that do happen. If you are planning on living your life outside of a plastic bubble and haven’t revisited your estate or incapacity plan in a while, give us a call. We would be happy to meet with you to discuss your goals and plans to make sure whatever events life throws your way won’t upset your estate plan.
(Full and fair disclosure: we did finally see a bear in a farmer’s field about a half mile away from the road as we left the refuge. Through the binoculars it looked like a big black lump until it moved. Might have been a cow. We are planning another trip down there hoping for bear sightings. Next time, maybe we will bring some bear repellant or bear bells or something in an effort to be more prepared. Chances are that I will not be mauled by a bear in a national wildlife refuge, but you never know. So I am going to get my documents in place. Just in case.)
Hook Law Center: Kit Kat, what does the term re-homed pets mean?
Kit Kat: A re-homed pet is one who is returned or given up to a shelter, vet, friend, or simply let loose to fend for itself. The latter happened to one of my sisters—Bella. She was found in a parking lot of a restaurant in Williamsburg, VA in September 2009. She was a brown tabby and had been fixed. We had her almost 7 years. She died of kidney failure on May 30, 2016. The vet who treated her estimated her age to be 16, so she had been put out of a home around the age of 9. She had been on the street a while, because at the time of her rescue by my family she was severely anemic. It is sad when that happens to a nice pet. Bella was a gentle soul who loved to sit on the bed with one of her family members. We can only hope her original family was very desperate to take such action with her.
Of re-homed pets, the statistics are as follows regarding where they are surrendered: 37% go to a friend or family member, 36% go to a shelter, 14% go to a veterinarian, 11% go to someone not previously known, and 1% other. A recent study conducted by the ASPCA revealed that more than one million owners re-home their pets each year. Most do so because of economic reasons. People with incomes lower than $50,000 surrender pets at a higher percentage than those with higher incomes. They also tend to re-home all of their pets in one fell swoop. It kind of makes sense, though the animal is the one who loses out. They loved their pet, but they had no alternative.
The ASPCA is hoping to reverse this pattern by offering safety net programs which offer veterinary care at a free or reduced rate to those struggling to maintain their pets. . In June 2014, they began pilot programs in the Los Angeles, CA area at two of the largest county shelters. To date, they have helped thousands of pets stay in their homes. The ASPCA is in the process of expanding these safety net programs to other states. There are now programs in 46 states. (“Major Research Study Reveals Reasons Pets Are Re-Homed,” ASPCA Action, Issue 1 2016, p. 4)
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