My Dad finished his race yesterday. He was my father, my partner, my mentor in the law, my hero in life. He was the last remaining founder of Hardy, Schwartzman, Bahan & Jacobson, PC, which morphed into Hardy & Jacobson, PC, Hardy, Jacobson, Gazda & Jacobson, PC, and finally into The Jacobson Law Firm PC, which it has remained these last 23 years.
Jake Jacobson was a brilliant attorney, steeped in municipal law at the knee of one of Texas’ masters, Harvey L. Hardy, Jr. He had a heart for military veterans, and no wonder: he started his military career as a US Air Force private, before the rank of Airman Basic existed. After reaching E-4 (buck sergeant), he applied for, and was accepted to, the Aviation Cadet Program, receiving a commission as a Second Lieutenant on graduation. He was a “mustang” - an enlisted man who became an officer. He used to say that the medal of which he was most proud was his Good Conduct Medal, because it reminded him that he started as an enlisted troop. Quite a statement, considering his two Distinguished Flying Crosses, five Air Medals, Bronze Star and two Joint Service Commendation Medals. Following graduation, he was commissioned a second lieutenant. He attended Radio Operator school, Navigator Training, and Pilot Training, making him one of very few entitled to wear three sets of Air Force wings.
Dad was a fighter pilot. It was how he defined himself. Even later in life, if you asked him what he did for a living, he would say, “I’m a fighter pilot who practices law.” In his granddaughter Mara’s words, “The sky was his happy place.” That’s true, but he stopped flying when he retired. When I asked him why, he said, “If I can’t fly at least once a week, I’m not safe, and I won’t be unsafe.” For his 80th birthday, my mom arranged for him to fly a P-51 for an hour. He wore his own flight suit. He was in heaven, in his element - in his happy place, in his own skin.
That was his standard, to do everything he did well and fully, to be dependable. He was a man in the mold of every John Wayne character, in the mold of “Lonesome Dove”’s Woodrow Call and Augustus McCrae. He was bigger than life, a man’s man.
He loved his wife, his family, his country and his Lord. He went to Vietnam as a volunteer and it changed him. He suffered PTSD in silence, because that’s what fighter pilots did. We were astonished and grateful when we discovered that, not 2 months before his death, he at long last unburdened himself to one of our pastors, admitting the pain of seeing colleagues, comrades, die. Of frustration that the politicians “wouldn’t let us win and come home”. He grew up believing that military service was a patriotic thing, a duty of all who were able, that love of country was to be honored and cherished and pursued, and he felt betrayed by those in positions of power. Bit it didn’t change his passion. To the end, he was an American warrior.
I joined the Air Force and studied the law largely because of him. To practice law as partners was a privilege for both of us. Through ups and downs, we were loyal to each other, to our profession, to our Lord. My military service took me out of the office for weeks at a time, but he never complained. It was an honor for him to support me in my service. He got it.
Jake Jacobson has “slip’d the surly bonds of earth”. He is home with his Lord, and ours. He will be missed. May all your skies be CAVU, Dad, and I’ll see you there.
I know, a happy little Friday topic! One of the best stress-relievers you can leave for your family is to keep as many financial accounts and insurance policies as possible out of your estate. Why? Because your beneficiaries will get the money faster and with (mostly) little hassle.
You see, most financial accounts allow you to designate a beneficiary, a person who will more or less automatically get that account or the money in it when the financial institution is notified of your passing. A POD, or "pay on death", account only requires a death certificate in order for the bank or credit union to cut a check to the person you designated as the POD beneficiary. A TOD, or "transfer on death", account is much the same way, only the assets are transferred into a new account in the beneficiary's name when the institution gets a copy of the death certificate and some paperwork gets filled out. The reason we have TOD accounts rather than making them all POD is that the assets in a TOD account might fluctuate in value or have penalties for liquidation (think fluctuating stocks or mutual funds, or an IRA where the beneficiary isn't old enough to start making penalty- and tax-free withdrawals).
Another way to avoid having accounts pass through your estate involves designating the accounts as JTWROS (joint tenants with right of survivorship), where the surviving owner just keeps on owning the assets in the account - many married couples have this type of account.
Quick note on insurance policies: sometimes people take out a policy and name their estate as the beneficiary (or, as too many military members are advised, say "by law"). Although there are situations where this is the smart thing to do, it's usually not. Like mostly not. Like practically never. If you want your spouse, kids or whoever to get the insurance proceeds, specifically name them in the beneficiary designation form the insurance company provides. Easy peasy.
All of these tools will ensure that the assets you want your heirs to have will get to them quickly, rather than having to wait (sometimes months) for the will to be probated. Your survivors will thank you! Now go have a beer, it's Friday!
I've probably drafted over 5,000 estate planning documents in my 32 years as a lawyer. At least half of those have been advance directives of some ilk: financial powers of attorney (POAs), medical POAs, directives to physicians, etc. Not until my father became ill, however, did I have to make use of one myself. We're in the middle of that season right now, and I have discovered a few things about the practice of implementing advance directives that I didn't know:
1. A lot of people who should ask to see a medical power of attorney just don't ask. I've discussed my dad's care and condition with a number of nurses and other staff who just accepted that I was who I said I was and that I was the primary agent named on the MPOA (I'm not, and didn't tell them that I was). Does that mean you shouldn't get one? NO! It simply means that there's a lack of training in the institutions we've been dealing with, which (as a former hospital attorney myself) shocked me a bit.
2. A lot of people who have no need to see an advance directive ask if you have one. Why? I guess because it's on their checklist, and it's on the checklist partly because it's easier on the facility if you have one. Often, if you don't have one, they'll urge you to fill one out. Remember, you don't EVER have to complete a living will if you don't want to.
3. As long as you know the patient's name and date of birth, you can get a fair amount of information from the physician's staff over the phone. One office even declined when I asked if they wanted me to scan the HIPAA release and send it to them! I guess I have a telephone voice that inspires confidence...
As happened when I had to serve as executor of my brother-in-law's estate a couple of years ago, I find that walking in the shoes of the people I serve, like executors and healthcare agents, gives me a better view of the challenges and surprises they face, and that, hopefully, helps me be a better advisor, counselor and representative. That's what I'm choosing to take away from this experience, anyway. I'll address more of these issues as our personal journey continues. In the meantime, if you have any spare prayers, please send them my father's way. I know where he's going, I'm just not wild about the process of him getting there.
While I sit here waiting for the car to get washed (why do I do this on Sunday afternoon? Why?) it occurs to me that things seem to run in packs in my practice. The latest recurring theme is people needing to probate the estate of a loved one who say, in various fact patterns, "We can't find his/her original will but here's a copy, that should be okay, right?"
Very often, the answer is, "Wrong." Why? Because in Texas and many other jurisdictions, if the testator (person who made the will) was in sole and exclusive possession of the original and it can't be found after the testator dies, the law presumes that the testator destroyed or revoked it.
It's not just the will that needs to be available, it's powers of attorney, advance directives, bank and financial account numbers and passwords, insurance policies, other recurring online transaction information, property records, etc. - all the stuff that needs to be dealt with and wrapped up after you die. At the firm, we include a list of these documents with every state planning packet we prepare.
The best thing you can do for your family is to have a binder with all this information in it, ready for your personal representative to grab and go. Original documents (most importantly your will) should be in clear plastic sleeves in the binder and the binder should be stored in a secure location (could be a locked filing cabinet or firebox). Give your executor separate instructions on how to locate and access the binder (hey, make it a scavenger hunt: "check the center drawer of the desk, the combination to the lock box/key to the filing cabinet is inside"). This will ensure your most important documents are accessible and organized when your loved ones need them most.