At that point, I asked… “Tell me a favorite memory of you and me.”
At first that really rattled her – her mind went straight to remembering me when I’m gone. I reassured her with “I’m right here, Sweetie. I just want one example of a nice memory of you and me.”
She said skiing and thought about it a bit more… then she said “driving me to swimming,” which was exactly what we were doing right then.
Now, that was very interesting.
You see, my view of the world is through my own experience. If I was crying on the verge of hysteria, I would be in a very different place than my daughter.
In her own way, she was sharing that it’s possible for her to be both falling apart, and happy, at the same time.
She didn’t perk up on the drive but she did settle enough to get herself into the pool. After swimming, she was as happy as I ever see her. Radiant – I made a mental note.
Kids have a wonderful ability to leave stuff behind.
I’m sharing the story so we remember there are different ways to process strong emotions.
Sometimes there is something “there” with a big emotional response – other times, like with my daughter, she was moving through a situation, in her own way, and didn’t need anything other than someone to bear witness.
Particularly with my kids, I have a desire to cure their pain.
Lots of articles about the pandemic nudging newbies into the backcountry. With that in mind, I thought I’d share a handful of thoughts that should be front and center of your mind.
Here’s a weird stat – attending an avalanche safety course is correlated with avalanche fatalities. In Colorado, we even had a course get swept.
I have a theory – it may be because the techniques taught don’t work very well.
Avoidance is the only safe strategy for avalanche terrain – at my last avy class, we carefully dug four pits on the same slope. Each pit gave a different snapshot of the slope. None agreed – hands down the best lesson of the course.
Don’t trust a pit.
Do know your slope angle. Caltopo.Com is a great research tool => check “slope angle shading” as a “Map Overlay”.
Even if you are not on a slope, you can get killed from above. I was reminded of that because I read every single accident report on the CAIC’s website.
Such a great site – it’s a shame we don’t see the lives saved and accidents avoided. The CAIC team do very good work.
A Better Place To Learn
One of the best developments of the last few years is resorts opening their terrain to uphill skiing. Lots of positive impact from this:
You can travel light and choose your effort => typically, with a backcountry setup and avy gear, the slope chooses your effort.
You benefit from the resort’s avy control and grooming.
There’s usually a parking lot below you and other skiers around you.
You can follow your uphill effort with a couple hours of lift-assisted turns – making turns after a long climb is a different type of fitness. It reminds me of running off the bike.
The last point is fundamental. It will take forever to learn your turns in the backcountry. There isn’t enough opportunity to make turns.
If you want to become proficient then 100 days on snow, split 50/50 between alpine/uphill, focus on tress/steeps/bumps on the resort. Two seasons of that protocol, with a year-round strength program, and you’ll be decent. Four seasons and you could be skiing like an instructor.
Maybe you don’t want to be a great skier. It does take a lot of time!
What follows will help you enjoy yourself and avoid unforced errors.
In the backcountry, if you get wet and lose your ability to move then you will find yourself in a survival situation.
My family thinks I’m an absolute nut about shelter from the wind and not getting damp. That’s because they’ve never found themselves in an unplanned survival situation!
Shovel, puffy in a dry bag, sil-tarp, headlamp, spare batteries => don’t die because you left a few pounds at home.
I once had to start a fire on top of my stove to keep myself from freezing. I was trying to ski from Silverthorne to Winter Park and found myself at the bottom of a snowy valley. Day light was running short and I came to a river swollen with spring run off. Running the risk of getting soaked, solo, seemed stupid so I went to Plan B. The ability to hunker down, light a fire and sleep turned a potential survival situation into a moderately entertaining adventure. I retraced my steps in the morning.
Don’t want to carry safety gear? Easy, skin at the resort.
Buy a middle of the road, lightweight touring setup then ski it at the resort. This was the best decision I made at the start of my backcountry career. My setup didn’t do anything “just right” but it let me figure things out.
Many resorts will allow you to practice in lower-stakes, but realistic, backcountry conditions by skinning up through the trees before the lifts start spinning.
Microspikes – I use them year-round on steep dirt and snow.
My kids have started asking me “what’s next” in terms of high school and college.
I told them to save those questions for a few years – what’s important right now is learning the basics and enjoying themselves.
They did, however, get me thinking.
This starts out as a letter to our youngest.
I’ve spent the last 20 years with ~2,000 hours (per annum) of self-directed time. When I reach “normal retirement age”, I will have had an extra ~70,000 hours versus what I was told to expect.
Consistently making choices as if time is more important than money has been a defining characteristic of my life after 30. Those choices, much more than my personal results, have been what gave me a 1-in-10,000 life, so far.
By the time you get to my age, you will have a series of stories you tell yourself about why you can’t do certain things. You’re also going to have the habit energy of 30+ years of choices.
The good news is many of our choices matter much less than we think, I got past a lot of bad choices.
Avoid ruin, build good habits, persist and you can achieve a very useful form of freedom.
My adult life, that you didn’t see, splits into three parts:
High school (to 18 yrs old)
Early adulthood (18 to 25 yrs old)
Adulthood (25 to 40 yrs old)
Along the way, people will be giving you never ending advice — to seek your attention, to get your money, to convince you to serve their ends…
Most of this advice is going to be tactical, short-term, single-action oriented // not particularly useful and a distraction. To blow through this (largely useless) advice I hope you to make a habit of asking yourself three questions:
Who is this person?
How do they know?
What are they selling me?
You’ll have to figure out your own purpose in life. Here’s what my choices say about what I did from 18-40 years old…
Free to choose…
…how, where and when…
…I allocate my time.
What I’m going to share is a strategy for getting yourself time.
What’s the role of high school?
Create options for further study. Science, mathematics, engineering, finance, accounting, technology… choose your courses so you can take any of the challenging majors in college. In 1986, I could have gone any direction at any major university in Canada.
If you can’t pull that off then learn a valuable trade, or skill, where you have a shot at becoming world-class.
The above is your “to do” list. There’s a wide range of successful outcomes possible, if you avoid early setbacks.
Pregnancy – avoid it in yourself and your friends – free contraception saves lives
Early habits of addiction and substance abuse – hook yourself on exercise
Suicide – keep an eye on your friends, and yourself – get help when you need it – everyone needs help
Pregnancy and addiction can be overcome. With regard to suicide, stay in the game – your future self will thank you.
You must have faith about the impact of long-term compounding – it’s why I started saving your allowance in Kindergarten. Our brains are not set up to comprehend exponents.
What’s the goal here?
The best technical education you can acquire without borrowing money.
But what if I could join the professional class?
If you can figure out how to do it debt-lite then fine. Otherwise, be wary of the time you’ll give away to get there — and — the habits you create from living a debt-funded aspirational lifestyle.
The professional class are just as enslaved by the system as most other people — they have nicer cars, bigger homes and beautiful wardrobes — they still lack time and cope with status-anxiety.
There are, however, certain professions that are ideal fits for a life with meaning.
For example, my friends who are docs/surgeons get a ton of satisfaction from helping their fellow citizens. They traded a lot of time to achieve their positions – a good trade, as they are valuable members of their local communities.
At 25, I was a well-trained financial technician. Globally, there are tens of thousands of people with similar training. What made the difference?
I was young – option value of youth!
I trained myself to live on half my income – I didn’t, and don’t, miss the spending
I was debt-free with four-years living expense saved – four years living expenses saved at 25
Living below my means
Time for my net worth to compound
Time to follow my healthy passions (athletics, coaching, relationships)
Compare that to my smartest peers at 25 — better educated, negative net worths (due to college borrowing) and a higher baseline cost of living.
Like a lot of things, there’s no visible difference until you hit mid-life.
A favorite question of mine for friends who are over 60 – name something your grandparents could have done that would have positively impacted your life today.
It’s a tough question – we are talking 50-100 year timelines.
Many families settle on… core real estate holdings that enable shared experiences across generations and time — the mythical cabin on a lake, and similar (not always ideal) investments.
What might be required to achieve that vision…
Proximity – the family needs to live close to each other, but not too close
Time – the subject of this essay
Enjoyment – do we enjoy spending time with each other? What if we don’t? How much are we willing to compromise to get along with each other?
Sharing my gratitude list was derailed by Andy’s death.
Reviewing my list helped me get through the challenges of the last couple weeks.
Of course, I have to remember to do the right thing. There were a couple of days where I forgot to take stock of the goodness all around me.
When you force yourself to think about what you value, you have an opportunity to reevaluate how you are spending your time.
Time being our most valuable resource.
20-25 more weeks (of COVID) is a good chunk of time. Pretty much a full season, back when I was an elite athlete.
When I step outside the specifics of my list, certain themes pop out.
Authentic Connection => Two sides of this. The A-side is my marriage, exploring Colorado with my kids and time in nature. The B-side (my not-to-do list) is looking at a screen.
It takes effort to look away, and keep looking away.
Breaking free from social media is something my kids have watched us do, and gives us a lot of street cred when we talk about using technology.
Physical Experience => My training program has a few “moments” each week that are deeply uncomfortable, totally worth it.
2% of my week is unpleasant, 18% I’m tired, 80% I feel great. Excellent trade – I remind myself to be grateful, rather than greedy.
COVID may be the only time of my adult life where I get a no-excuses block of time. No travel, no races, no distractions from doing what it takes.
Likewise, as my buddy Jonser is fond of saying,
Being married to a smoking’ hot wife has its benefits.
If I want the benefits, then I need to be willing to: (a) do what it takes for myself; and (b) support someone else’s goals, sometimes in priority to things I might prefer to do. Useful lessons.
Across the year, I had a lot of “achievements” – 10,000+ feet vertical skinning days, 68,000 feet descending ski day, 14ers, strength PBs… achieving specific goals does not leave an enduring imprint.
The emptiness of striving is a reminder to focus on process and remember to back-off enough to enjoy the journey.
Do we strive because we feel anxious? Or do we feel anxious because we have a habit of striving?
Financial Stability => COVID took away most my luxury and discretionary spending. Two trades in March covered my cost of living for the entire year. Again, don’t be greedy.
I’ve been in no hurry to add spending back. Instead, I’ve been asking: (a) what’s missing and (b) what’s actually useful about financial wealth?
Stability => the absence of financial anxiety, the ability to choose, the ability to control my own schedule.
It’s tough to remember the value of the absence.
It takes far less money (and time) than you’d expect to achieve the full utility of money. The toughest parts are managing my own ego and keeping my household expectations in check. Humans have unending desires and we do a good job of nudging one-another along.
As for what’s missing => again, not much $$$ required. Circle back to authentic connection and make time to go to my pals, who might be a little too busy to visit me.
Self-sufficiency – when we had a house full of babies and preschoolers, we used to live in fear of holidays. The longer breaks of Christmas and August were particularly tough. COVID forced us to figure it out and, sure enough, we did.
As the pandemic unwinds, the ability to take care of ourselves is something I’d like to retain. Personally, it costs me a couple hours a day (chores, cleaning, errands) but it’s better than having to manage (a process of avoiding what I can do myself).
The pandemic forced me to think deeply about how I want to educate my kids. Home school forced us to get involved in their education. My children are the most direct expression of my legacy in the world. So I’m thankful for the opportunity to pass along my values to them – they’re always watching!
I’ll end with a lesson from Mark Allen – AKA the greatest triathlete of all time.
Often, you need to recover, simply to see how tired you are.
Mark taught me the lesson in the context of end-of-season recovery but, like much of what I learned in sport, I found it applies more broadly.
Fatigue, grief, trauma… whatever you happen to be working with… think in terms of layers.
Often, we start to feel better then charge right back into the patterns that were causing our difficulties in the first place.
Eight months into COVID, a return to home school, several deaths close to me, kids running around the house all day… it’s reasonable to assume that I might be a little more tired than I realize… 🙂
In life, we reap the rewards during recovery, not beat down.
One other quick note: one of my wife’s friends sent us three picture frames. The idea is each kid gets to put a favorite Andy memory into their frame. Wonderful gift idea that I wanted to pass along. Our oldest added a note at the bottom of her frame, “Thank you Andy for being a great uncle.” Gratitude in the face of grief.
OK, now an idea about relationships for you.
When death, divorce or another life changing event takes place, we might have a feeling that we need to rebuild. Rebuilding, after everything fell apart.
Alternatively, we might get caught in a victim mentality. The shock of the event leaving us feeling angry, hurt or disoriented – feeling like the world, or a specific person, did us wrong.
We’ve been done wrong!
Two things I shared with my oldest daughter.
Yes, your uncle dying is the worst thing that has happened to you. However, it’s unlikely that this moment is going to be the worst thing that happens in your life. [I avoided the temptation for us to brainstorm future tragedies.]
No, we are not being singled out. Death is a natural and universal human experience. Everyone you meet will have their own story about death.
In terms of tough moments, I have a buddy who started 2020 with his spouse dying after a long journey with cancer. I followed them for many years. They packed a lot of living into those final years.
Roll forward into COVID, into grief and he shared an observation about a person he’d met.
We have an opportunity to build a life together.
Opportunity, Build, Together
I wanted to pass those words to you because they are very different from the way I saw relationships as a young man.
My ideas of the past, at best, were to find someone to share MY experience with ME.
Or perhaps, someone to follow MY instructions and serve ME.
Far more useful to be thankful for the opportunity to have loved, to have had the opportunity to raise kids and then focus on what’s next. Life after children, life after his spouse has died.
When I place myself in my friend’s mindset, certain things become clear.
Don’t seek to nudge others towards my view – share experiences and change together.
Know that shared experiences, particularly struggles, are what it’s all about. Embrace the opportunity to face life together, as those will be the moments that bring us together.
If my time allocation reflected my values, then what would it tell me?
Be grateful for an opportunity to build better together.
I’ve been handling my daughter’s swim transport since Andy died.
Being a Swim Dad turned out to be much less of an issue than I expected. I get to chat with my kids and read books.
While my daughter is swimming, I sit in a quiet car, put my phone in airplane mode and embrace the silence.
These are valuable moments.
Last week, between drop off and pick up, I was chilling in a Safeway parking lot.
I was reading the last book in Cixin Liu’s SciFi trilogy, The Three Body Problem was my favorite. Anyhow, I looked up and saw a guy heading back to his car with some beer.
The scene reminded me of something I want to share with you.
There was a period of time where I thought drinking most every night was helping me cope with reality. There was even a bit of fear that I might not be able to handle my reality.
We all have ways of avoiding reality. Thing is, the truth doesn’t care about my feelings.
The holidays can be a challenging time. Shortened days, cold/wet weather, increased interpersonal stress, reminders of childhood emotional injuries…
…throw in a strong dose of COVID-stress and you might find your bad habits knocking on the door of your consciousness.
1/. When KP died, anger made a strong return in my life. Fortunately, I have enough weightlifting to disperse the feelings that can manifest as anger. So long as I lift, and don’t hold my breath under stress, I’m good.
2/. Following Andy’s death, I’ve been having a desire to drink a beer. Actually, the feeling is a bit stronger than that. Allow me to describe… I would like to take all the alcohol in the world and pour it into a tiny black hole that’s located just above my heart.
It’s a strange sensation to say the least!
How do I deal with something like that? First up, I pay attention to what I’m feeling.
Am I sure? Is that really what I am feeling?
While I’m trying to figure out what’s really going on, I breathe. Breathing into an emotional hole helps, a lot. Laughter helps. Hugs help. Moderate exercise helps.
I know what works and I make time to do it, daily.
Then I start to look deeper, a friend once summed up his escape habit as follows…
When I used to feel like this, I would just XXXXX until I didn’t care anymore.
I’m not going to share my buddy’s “blank.”
Do you know your own blank?
Looking at the guy walking out of Safeway I laughed with a visual image of asking him if it would be OK if I borrowed his case of beer for a while.
I was also laughing because I’ve learned that I have the ability to choose how I fill in my blank.
wait, meditate, breathe, pray
exercise, persist, assist, clean
drink, use, rage, eat, smoke, yell, cry
My feelings come and go. I try not to get wrapped up in whether they are right or wrong. It’s better that way, I generate a lot of bad ideas.
Where I focus is reminding myself that I am free to decide how I’m going to fill my blank.
I also remember there were very good reasons to leave my poor choices behind.
Trust vehicles can be useful to your family and I will illustrate with a couple of stories.
First thing to remember => trusts work best if you set them up long before you “need” them.
Part One: Around the time I turned 40, I found myself in a situation where I had joint & several liability with a business partner who’d made poor choices. As fate would have it, these choices were made inside an insolvent group with over $100 million of borrowings.
Now, the banks were not going to be getting their money back by suing me but (even the remote possibility of) being wiped out late in life was highly unattractive.
Part Two: Long time readers will remember that I used to do bike-focused training camps with top age-group athletes. I would ride, on open roads, with doctors and CEOs who were completely exhausted. If an athlete was killed, or permanently disabled, then it would be easy to prove a large financial cost to their family.
As a business, we dealt with this risk through waivers, event-specific insurance and a family-level umbrella insurance policy.
When I added up the cost/time/worry of this approach it was expensive, even more so once I had my own family to protect.
Take the two parts together => I was working in two fields. The first field was similar to being a director/fiduciary of a company. The second field is similar to being a professional exposed to allegations of malpractice.
One day, I was talking to a tax accountant about what was going on in my life, and the changes that were expected in Estate Taxation. He recommended I speak with a local trust attorney.
An initial meeting showed me that the cost to set up a new structure would be the same as one year’s insurance bill. Because I have the skills to run the fiduciary aspects, the ongoing cost would be a fraction of what I was paying my insurance company.
Step One was setting up something called an Intentionally Defective Grantor Trust. From a layman’s perspective, I put my share of my house and rental property into a trust that benefits my spouse and kids. I retain the tax liability for the trust, for my life.
From my point of view, the main asset I am left with is my earning capacity, balanced against future tax liabilities. I’m a much less attractive target to any potential litigant.
From my family’s point of view, the trust is similar to an annuity, tied to my life. When I die, they can sell assets and/or move into a small rental property, while living off the rental income produced by the larger rental property.
The specifics are technical, there’s a bunch of tax considerations and you should take expert local advice.
This change gave me a more secure feeling than the insurance policies.
Over time, I exited the disaster-prone aspects of my life and that helped too.
Irrevocable Family Trust
I’ll illustrate with a recent example – my brother-in-law died and his balance sheet will flow into my wife’s family.
What follows isn’t what is going to happen, but it could have => check with an expert in your jurisdiction if this seems useful.
Here’s a story… assume Andy had a brother called “Dude” (he didn’t).
Andy had planned ahead and wanted to leave assets to Dude. However, Dude didn’t need the money, or Andy didn’t like Dude’s wife, or any number of reasons Andy might not want to support Dude’s personal balance sheet.
So Andy set up an Irrevocable Trust. Let’s call it The Dude’s Trust => Dude, and Dude’s descendants are the beneficiaries.
Andy then drafted his will, or his Living Trust, to leave everything to Dude, but gave Dude a specific power of appointment to nominate The Dude’s Trust in his place.
Before Andy dies, he would also have the ability to make gifts to The Dude’s Trust.
Did you see what happened? Andy was able to achieve what he wanted => money to Dude. Dude is left with a choice to inherit directly, or into a family trust.
In a world with an unknowable future, this is a valuable option.
The current Estate Tax Threshold is $11.58 million per individual, double for married couples. I’m far, far below that threshold.
However, that limit sunsets in 2025 and who knows what tax regime will be in place when I turn 75 (some time after 2040), or beyond 2080 when my kids age up.
I can imagine we shift to a regime I’ve worked with outside the US => deemed sale at death, zero personal exemption, no step-up in basis, the estate pays capital gains tax and the net flows to the beneficiaries of the estate. It’s simple and I like tax simplification.
In that scenario, trusts that were established prior to the change in rules could be grandfathered, particularly if they already own assets. To get around assets sitting in a trust “forever,” the IRS might create a rule for the deemed sale of trust assets, this rule exists in jurisdictions outside the US.
Even if everything stays the same… given the asset protection benefits of a trust, and the ability to “finance” the structure through reduced insurance payments, it made sense for my family.
This is not legal, tax or accounting advice – seek local experts.
We managed four weeks of hybrid school for the kids. Next week, we’re back to online education.
Unfortunately, the virus infected enough people that our district is not going to be able to staff the schools (a mix of quarantines and infections).
With the announcement, we reached out to our summer tutors and swim coaches. I have a hunch “kid stuff” will be limited over the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. It’s back to continuously rolling a little bit of home school six-days-a-week.
All up, we managed six days with all three kids out of the house. That little bit of school was a big help to us, and the kids. I’m glad the district gave it a shot.
8 month anniversary of Colorado-COVID is tomorrow.
The kids loved their return to in-person learning. Social distancing, masks and other safety measures were a non-issue.
My daughter asked me how I thought her mother was doing. It gave me a chance to introduce the concept of resilience.
Sweetie, she’s not always feeling good but she’s made a decision to move forward, regardless of how she’s feeling.
My wife spent her college years in Wisconsin. Most winter mornings, she’d trudge to the pool, in the dark, and keep moving forward.
Waking up early to train before school is good practice for life.
Last weekend, saw the return of college football. I think UCLA was in town.
Who’s idea was that?
The university administration had a “safety first” policy and restricted stadium admission to less than 1,000. I’m guessing it was boosters sipping drinks in private suites. Not sure, though.
Now, what do you think happened?
Well, our collegiate neighbors backed up the previous week’s underground Halloween parties with a strong session of day drinking (SKO Buffs!). Hundreds of mask-free college kids strolled the neighborhood.
We haven’t been doing a good job of setting priorities and protecting ourselves, from ourselves.
With everything that’s gone down in the last 14 days, we’re doing great. I had exposure to a dozen households over the five-day block following Andy’s death. So far, nobody’s been symptomatic.
The vaccine news cheered me up.
I’m sure that I’ll be tempted to go back to “normal” when COVID clears.
The main thing I miss is traveling to visit friends and family.
When I wrote Regime Change four years ago, I completed missed how The Trump Administration would tempt me to give into my worst impulses.
I nailed the “rich will feel richer” part but whiffed on the vibe.
Trump’s policies remain popular. I think he blew his re-election. Of course, I thought he blew it in 2016. Life is full of surprises.
Anyhow, time to move on to something more useful.
Everywhere I have lived has a slice of the population that is Permanently P’d Off (PPO).
The slice of the PPO in the US seems to be greater than other places I have lived (Canada, NZ, HK, UK).
If you are a political party, or media outlet, then enraging the PPO is a useful strategy. Useful to meet your goals of raising money, maintaining attention and inspiring action.
I think we can all agree that Trump is, and will remain, world class in this regard => money, attention, action. The man has skills.
When I come across a member of the PPO, I don’t engage them.
I remember, this is a person who has invested deeply in their belief system (attention, friends, money, tribe, habit, neurochemistry).
I have to be most cautious with the angry. Anger is contagious.
Justified anger is my worst trait – it clouds my judgement, muddies my thinking and hurts my health.
Anger repels the nicest people in my life and poisons my relationship with my kids.
Rather than sing along with the PPO, I go quiet and feel thankful that I can avoid distracting myself from what I need to do => keep on keeping on with my family.
If someone won’t relent then a good phrase is,
If I have to pick one issue then, I guess, I’m most in favor of tax simplification.
I’ve yet to meet anyone who wants to engage me on tax simplification.
I’m grateful that my job does not require me to encourage conflict.
As a parent, where some conflict is inevitable, I tell my kids… “I love you too much to argue.”
With a view towards high school, college majors and, ultimately, careers… I think to myself, which fields avoid the need to constantly feed conflict?
Education, especially working with kids. Constant deescalation is required, or you’ll burnout very quickly.
Healthcare, I like the vibe from my friends who work in the healing arts.
Mission Focused, fields where getting stuff done is more important than triggering an emotional response.
If you invert then you can rule out a lot of stuff (advertising, media, politics, academics). There’s probably a lot more. I’m a few years away from needing to give it much thought.
For now, I’ve advised my kids…
Try to find out if you’re really good at something difficult.
Let’s refocus on something useful.
PS – paper ballots, mailed to every registered voter, run by the counties, with lots of places to drop. Works great in Colorado. The more you centralize (anything) the easier it is to cheat and the more fragile the system becomes. Just like in finance, when someone seeks complexity, it’s usually to fool you.
Recently, a local lawyer advised a friend, “Sorting these documents, now, will save you a multiple of time, money and hassle – later.”
I would add… it is best to make end of life plans when stress is low.
With Andy’s death, I re-read my stuff last week. I was surprised how little needed to change.
Indeed, a good attorney saved my family time, money and hassle.
General Durable Power of Attorney – this lets someone I nominate act as “me” while I am alive – I do not need to be disabled.
The POA does not enable anyone of act on my behalf after I die. This limbo period (immediately after death) should be considered by you and your family.
The POA does not enable anyone to step into my work roles, say, as a fiduciary. This needs to be considered.
If you execute a POA then place the original in a fire safe where you can run it through a shredder (not joking) in case there’s an issue with the person you appointed – I’ve seen a lot of wacky stuff in my life, things change and this is a very powerful document.
Living Will – this covers how I’d like to be treated when I’m dying. Very useful for your family, who will be blasted if you’re in any sort of condition to need to dust off this document. Also useful for your medical representatives, who may be reluctant to deny you treatment.
Medical Durable Power of Attorney – just what it sounds like – who is authorized to make medical decisions on my behalf. Keep the contact details up to date and available to your family.
HIPAA Releases – who can receive my medical information. There could be people you’d like to have informed, but not act on your behalf.
Living Trust – a very useful form of trust – assets can come in/out and it can be used to title financial and real property assets – a local attorney can tell you more.
These documents are not expensive to put in place.
My current will was done ~13 years ago and has seen 4 changes.
The changes were minor, inexpensive and easy to arrange. Once again, doing it right the first time saved us time, money and hassle.
The original will predates my kids. You might get a kick out how it played out.
Before my wife was pregnant, I was leaving my life to charity. At the signing meeting, my lawyer, who drafted the docs, smiled and said, “I bet I see you in a couple years to change that part.”
Sure enough, my kids arrived, I got to know them and I made some revisions. Those revisions start to get a little complex so I’ll outline them in another post.
Most people don’t need complexity. All my assets, eventually, flow into my living trust, which already holds title to most of my assets. Standard clauses are used to protect my spouse and follow the tax code.
Whatever you decide to do – double check what’s required for a will to be valid where you live. There are places where a handwritten letter, witnessed by the sole beneficiary, doesn’t work. Colorado is one of them – link is to what’s required for a will to be valid in Colorado.
A good attorney, familiar with the laws in your state, is essential. She will have you decide, in advance, on the areas where disputes happen.
Also find out about successor beneficiaries for your assets. Certain jurisdictions will let you nominate where your assets go, separate from a will.
Your attorney will likely have a checklist of items for you to consider => 529 accounts, retirement accounts, death benefits… take time to think it through.
The US has something called Stepped-Up Basis – it is worth learning about. Basically, certain assets (like real estate) have their taxable basis reset at the date of death.
I’ll illustrate with a quick example: Grandpa G bought a house in 1980 and his taxable basis is $50,000. He dies in 2020 and the house is worth $1,000,000. If he sells the house the day before he dies the gain is $950,000. If his estate sells after his death then then gain is $0.
Be aware there are wrinkles to do with trusts and certain types of assets don’t qualify.
With all this stuff => ask an expert.
If you trust someone enough to give them a General Durable Power of Attorney then consider making them a signing officer on an “operating account.”
More than a decade before we needed it, a grandparent did this in our family. This made it easy for a trusted family member to pay bills before we were in a situation to invoke the POA.
It also removes the expectation for the wealthiest member of your family to finance everything, which can create an unnecessary distraction when you should be supporting each other.
Kids => If your kids end up orphaned then you might want to split their “care” from their “finances.” The skills of a Guardian could be very different than those a Conservator. Are you familiar with these terms? Ask your lawyer to explain.
Andy used to joke that all we needed to do was leave him with enough to cover a beach hut in Central America. With a small nest egg, he’d ensure our kids were well loved and became pro surfers…
We miss him dearly.
Final words of advice…
1/. There are good people who are useless under duress
2/. There are people who cope with grief by misusing veto power
Think carefully about who you put in charge and what you let them control.
I have a medical doctor and a military officer in my structure => individuals I trust to be compassionate, and execute my wishes, under duress.
This a quick outline – take expert advice from someone familiar with your jurisdiction.
I’m not an expert. Over the years, I have hired experts and it has proven to be money well spent.