I returned to California again Wednesday evening after an exhausting day of travel with a renewed sense of self. The last two months have been disorganized and hectic, and after a much needed trip to see an old friend in North Carolina, I have returned to California with a clear head. On May 29 just after 10:00am, my stepfather, Charles H. Shermoen, passed away. He was an incredible influence on my life and his death was very hard on me. He suffered from pulmonary fibrosis complicated by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and spent the last two and a half years of his life tethered to an oxygen machine, which he hated. Charlie was full of life and though he was a self-proclaimed "asshole" (a reputation he cultivated with pride), he had a selfless heart. He was a retired ironworker and was tough as nails. He didn't take crap from anyone and taught me a lot about how to stand up for myself (I was bullied as a child) while always maintaining the high road. He was more than a parent - he was my friend - and I miss him dearly.
I closed my physical law office in Monterey, CA and took my practice entirely online to go out on sabbatical. I was out a few months when Charlie passed away so I have spent the better part of the last two months trying to wrap up his estate. As an estate planning attorney, and the only lawyer in the family, everything fell to me to organize and distribute. He and I had spent time planning out his estate but by the end he had gotten too sick, and too tired of dealing with it all, to properly execute the documents we had spent so much time creating. Now I am trying to take care of everything without all the necessary instrments in place and it reminds me of how incredibly important it is to get a plan in place so that our loved ones do not have to try to sort out and find everything after we are gone. A death in the family is hard enough but if there are any assets, especially with more than one heir, it is a time-consuming and expensive burden for the family to go through the probate process because there was no prearranged plan in place.
The reason I got into estate planning was precisely to help families avoid the process I am going through now. A plan helps your family avoid two major obstacles while coping with grief: Figuring out what you really want done with everything and then locating all the relevant documents to make that happen. If there is ANY disagreement about assets (because families never disagree on anything) or if there are unsavory characters in your family tree (let's face it - we all have one or two) the process will take four times as long and cost five times as much. If you have to go to court over any of it the only people who win are the lawyers. The Client Portal page on my website has a Get Started button under the Estate Planning practice area that links to a document designed to help you get all of your information together. It's a simple fact that we are all going to pass on someday - and that no one likes to think about it - but the time and expense associated with estate planning will alleviate a great burden on your family down the line and will keep your memory alive and well long after you're gone.