What’s the difference between saying you love the troops and actually loving them? How about making sure their families receive money owed to them when they die.

Ever hear of a “death gratuity?” It’s a $100,000 payout wired to a fallen soldier’s family within three days of his or her death. It helps the grieving family pay for the funeral and cover normal expenses. This isn’t free money. It comes at a cost: A soldier’s life. But since the government can’t stop bickering about who-knows-what, four families aren’t getting the money.

It doesn’t stop there. According to USA Today:

The Department of Veterans Affairs exhausted some carryover funding and furloughed 7,000 workers who process compensation claims. As a result, the VA cut off public access Tuesday to all 56 regional offices where veterans routinely walk in to file claims for compensation of combat- or other service-related wounds, injuries or illnesses.

If all this is making you angry, and putting the government shutdown in perspective, then you’re human.

Via USA Today and The Washington Times

UPDATE 10/9/13: The Pentagon entered into an agreement with The Fisher House Foundation to ensure families of fallen troops are paid survivor benefits that were suspended because of the government shutdown. See, when there's enough outrage over something things can actually get done.

Johnny Wells is not going to live to see his daughter grow up and get married. To replace this loss, he and his family held a mock wedding for her in his hospital room, which is featured on CNN’s morning show New Day as a “Good Stuff” segment.

A New York estate/real-estate lawyer who’s goes by the Reddit username “SpiffySpacemanSpiff” offered up his expertise for free to the massive online community. While most of the users took advantage of his real estate and business forming advice, he offered lots of interesting and down-to-earth insight into estate planning and other topics often ignored by typical websites that traffic in Corgis and, um, more Corgis.

We’ve picked a few of the best nuggets, did a little editing, and compiled them below (click here for the full Reddit post):

Question: I am in my 30s and have been working since I was 14. I don't have a whole lot but would it still be in my interests to set up a living will or something to that effect?

SpiffySpacemanSpiff:  Oh dear god yes.

I cannot tell you how many estates come across my desk where something simple could have saved people years of wasted time.

Typically, when you've hit thirty, you have something you want to protect, and people you want to care for. So, although it may not be apparent to you, having your estate properly settled at a young age can prevent any unexpected nightmares from popping up here and there.

For example, a client of mine, who had inherited a few things from her grandmother passed away rather unexpectedly, and we had to complete her will, trust and personal planning documents in a matter of days, in order to keep her estate from going through the inherently arduous and slow moving procession that is the NYC surrogates court!

Question: Should "normal" people (i.e., the 99%) consider transferring their homes to trusts (be they QPRTs or otherwise) if the total value of their estates will never trigger federal estate taxes? Or are these things that only people with estates valued above several million dollars should be concerned about?

SpiffySpacemanSpiff: I recommend transferring homes to trust for the purposes of simplifying the asset's transfer upon death.

Question: If I wanted to place my fiance, not yet spouse, on a Trust/Will, is it more complicated than if we were married? And how do I go about updating that after we get hitched?

SpiffySpacemanSpiff: It is possible to do an estate plan before the marriage, that contemplates your marital relationship. It is important however, to work with an attorney who can help you think through the specifics of your individual circumstances, both before and after the marriage.

Question: If someone would have inherited a sum of money in 2010 from life insurance, but due to court proceedings and what not, the funds weren't made available until 2013, which year's estate tax applies? I know 2010 was a 0% year, so we're hoping we'll be able to claim under those rules... Any thoughts?

SpiffySpacemanSpiff: The estate tax is filed in the year of the death.

Question: What recourse do I have/what do I do when the executors of a will in which I was named have seemed to completely drop off the face of the Earth. If it matters, I live in NYC, the executor(s) live in St. Louis, and the deceased person lived in Las Vegas. She passed away nearly a year ago and I've heard nothing from the executor, and she seems to be dodging my attempts to contact her.

SpiffySpacemanSpiff: First, Estates are handled by the courts of the state where the decedent lived (sorry for your loss btw) you must first find out which state the proceeding is in, and then contact a lawyer there to help you!

That said, you definitely have the right to pursue this, and one year is an appropriate time! The will is a public document, so you should be able to access it to see if you are a beneficiary of the estate.

Bonus comment from a user going by the name 10b-5, who discusses the pros and cons to having a will. He was asked how people who don’t have much money can still help their family when/if they die:

10b-5: Life insurance would seem most apt in that scenario, which is also exempt from probate so it wouldn't matter if you had a will.

In essence, there's a few pros and cons to having a will. The main benefit is that you can fully control who gets what, and you can even impose conditions on the gifts.
The negative is that:

1. you need to actually make the will

2. probate might take a lot of time

3. there might become disputes between the heirs over who gets the loot.

It also needs to be said that writing a will does not require you to get help from a lawyer. If you do not have a lot of assets or complicated family issues, it can be written fairly simply on your own, though I'd recommend finding a template online. It would require it to be signed by you and two witnesses, and that's about it.

You don’t need to be a meth manufacturing mastermind and threaten former business associates with assassination to set up a trust for you kids.

In the series finale of AMC’s Breaking Bad, Walter White (Bryan Cranston) has a lot of loose ends to tie up, one of involves setting up an irrevocable trust for his kids. The problem: He has over $9 million in drug money, which would be immediately snatched up by the government. Plus, his son Walt Jr. (a.k.a. Flynn) probably wouldn't be too receptive of the ill-gotten gains.

What’s an Irrevocable Trust?

Better yet, what’s a trust? Think of it as a threeway. (Get your mind outta the gutter, people.) Let’s use Breaking Bad as an example. [Disclaimer: Before any accountants out there blow a thousands holes in our analogy, let’s assume Walt’s a legit businessman who just got a $9 million windfall and wants to make sure his kids get that money with as little taxes and trouble as possible.] Here are the players:

There’s the settlor or grantor, which is the brilliant but murderous Walter White. It’s his money, he’s funding the trust.

There’s the the trustee(s), which are Walt’s ex-business associates Elliott and Gretchen Schwartz. (Long story short: He had a falling out with them many years earlier, their company went on to be worth billions, Walt blames them for his own failures in life.) They’re tasked with setting up the trust through their company Gray Matter (lawyers will do the heavy lifting), managing the trust, and making sure all that money legally goes to…

The beneficiary: Walt’s teenager son Flynn (a.k.a. Walt Jr.). When he turns 18 the money will be made available for him to do as he pleases. Walt hopes he uses it for college, but the kid will probably blow it all on breakfast cereal.

We’re fully aware this example has a few issues--like how Walt legally has nothing to do with this trust and it’s up to Elliott and Gretchen’s to create and manage it--but let’s not make this more complex than it has to be.

So what’s the “irrevocable” part? It means Walt can’t get that money back. He also can’t change who gets it or how the money is managed. It’s no longer his...unless he gets consent from the trustee(s) and beneficiary. In the Breaking Bad universe, once the Schwartz’s set up the trust as irrevocable, Flynn will be getting that money whether he wants it or not.

The good part about irrevocable trusts are the tax benefits and how they’re pretty much set in stone. So if Walt had second thoughts and wanted the money back it’d be very difficult.

What’s Revocable All About?

If you’re curious about a “revocable” trust, look no further than Breaking Bad’s lovable fixer Mike Ehrmantraut.

He was having a sleazy lawyer--no, not Saul--put cash in a safe deposit box for his granddaughter, who was supposed to gain access to said box on her 18th birthday. At any point Mike or his lawyer could take money out of the safe deposit box. That the difference. Revocable you can cancel or change at any time. Irrevocable you can’t without jumping through a lot of hoops.

In Reality...

Breaking Bad might have just wanted to sound smart and badass by having Walt say “irrevocable trust” but here are a few things you need to know if you’re setting up a trust:

--A trust is like setting up a business. It requires a tax ID, a bank account and you have to file taxes on it each year.

--Because it requires all these things, get a lawyer because it gets complicated. You might also require help from an accountant.

--Don’t do drugs. It never ends up well.

For more info on Trusts check out our mini Trust World.

Argentinian artist, Luciano Podcaminski, attempted to bring awareness to the dangers of the tanning bed with his creation “Sundeath.”

Mr. Podcaminski uses the Jersey Shore staple as a symbol of all the dangerous acts we do for vanity. In his opinion, these actions are not only senseless, but destructive. Often, we narcissistically repress negative repercussions just so we can look good at that moment.

If the tanning bed were actually designed this way would consumers cut back on tanning? What if other “bad” habits were reconstructed? For example, should cigarette boxes resemble iron lungs? Should sugar-based snacks come in casket, headstone, and hearse shapes? In the end would it actually matter? Would we just become accustomed to the new design and continue to repress? Or would people think all of these things were cool and want to use them more?

Via Booooooom

Steamiest health care proxy dilemma ever? When last season of Grey’s Anatomy ended Seattle Grace Hospital was hit by a massive storm, leaving Dr. Webber (James Pickens Jr.) electrocuted and barely clinging to life in the basement. (He was attempting to fix the generator. It happens!)

Once they finally find his lifeless body they are faced with either letting him die or doing a very risky procedure that might kill him. Dr. Bailey (Chandra Wilson) and Dr. Yang (Sandra Oh) are at odds over what to do.

“What does his health care directive say about extraordinary measures?” Dr. Hunt (Kevin McKidd) asks the two bickering doctors. They go to a filing room to find Dr. Webber’s paperwork...

Dr. Yang gives it a read and is all “Oh no!” Turns out Dr. Webber named Meredith Grey, of all people, his health care proxy!

Dr. Grey is still recovering from having a baby when she’s handed the advance directive. Dr. Hunt tells her she was named Richard’s medical power of attorney. Meredith is confused. (Big shock, right?)

“But he can’t make me next of kin without talking to me first,” Grey says.

“He did,” says Dr. Bailey, who’s 100-percent in favor of the surgery.

“After Adele died he revised his directive,” Dr. Yang chimes in, who thinks they should hold off on the surgery.

There isn’t much time. The procedure can’t wait. Dr. Yang and Bailey are arguing. Dr. Hunt is getting annoyed. It’s on all Meredith to make the call. “Why wouldn’t he tell me,” Grey asks herself aloud.

“I don’t know,” Dr. Yang says in her matter-of-fact tone. “But he didn’t. So it’s on you. So you have to decide.”

We’re gonna stop there because we refuse to spoil the ending. Feel free to take a break and watch them on Hulu.

We’re just thrilled that Grey’s Anatomy devoted this much time in the two-hour season premiere episode to the health care proxy discussion and advance directives. It may have added drama, passion and really attractive people into the mix, but this is real life

People get very passionate and emotional in these situations, especially if the patient can’t speak for him or herself and say what they want (hence Dr. Yang and Bailey going off on each other). That’s why advance directives (i.e. Living Wills) are so important. Plus, if you’re smart like Dr. Webber, you’ll choose a person who’ll make the right decisions for you and not themselves.

Kudos to Grey’s for shedding light on an important topic. Be like Dr. Webber and choose someone to speak for you when you can’t speak for yourself. Otherwise it’ll just be a bunch of doctors and family members arguing in your hospital room over a simple decision you should have made for yourself. Here’s how you get started. And here's a picture of Dr. Bailey playing with Meredith's cute baby.

We do our best to prepare for natural disasters, but we rarely prepare for the natural disaster awaiting us all: Death. So writes Dr. Ira Byock in his compelling and informative story “Caring Well for One Another Through the End of Life,” which appears in USA Today’s “End of Life Care” supplement.

“Relatively few Americans are sufficiently informed or have taken basic steps to keep themselves and their families safe from harm when dying,” writes Dr. Byock, who is a practicing palliative care physician and author of The Best Care Possible. “Despite decades of efforts and significant improvements in end-of-life care, studies reveal that many Americans still suffer as they die or spend their last days in places or situations they would never have wanted.”

Dr. Ira Byock
Photo Source: Compassionate Care Alliance

He advises people to seek out specialized teams to support you when things get difficult, equating palliative care and hospice programs to the Red Cross and FEMA. “With skillful care and reasonable comfort, a person’s dying can hold opportunities to complete a life, rather than merely have it end.”

Dr. Byock also goes on to stress how important it is to have a conversation with people you trust, telling them what sort of treatment you either want or don’t want. This is where he mentions Everplans and The Conversation Project as websites that “provide valuable resources and forms at no cost.”

The “End of Life Care” supplement, which is currently on newsstands, provides other very interesting and informative stories about hospice care myths, how Hall of Fame quarterback Boomer Esiason became a life insurance advocate after losing his mother at an early age, and a look at the legacy of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ iconic work “On Death and Dying." Oh, and the new season of Homeland starts this weekend so don't forget to set those DVRs!


Our friend Kathy Kastner of BestEndings.com has put together a very down-to-earth and helpful video series dealing with the great beyond. Here’s one of the clips:

What started as an experiment, and a way to test a new video camera, blossomed into an open and honest [5-part video series] featuring a diverse group of friends comfortably confronting their thoughts, worries and concerns when it comes to talking about death.

Just like [Death Over Dinner], Death Cafe and The Conversation Project, Kathy is yet another positive force in the ongoing movement to chat up death in a casual setting. Keep up the good work!

Via Best Endings

At my birthday dinner last night, I was reminded by my (older) friend that at 29, I should realize how I’m “getting up there.” Although I know he was just trying to get a rise out of me, I couldn’t help but become fixated on aging. Time does fly.

I still get carded, wear boy's Converses, am petrified of spiders, and the concept of diapers grosses me out; I don’t consider myself old. At the same time, I realize my arbitrary immature aspects do not save me from the inevitable aging process. Yes, I’m an adult.

Now, here’s where my ramblings affect you, dear reader. I cannot help but think: No matter how old we are, we’ll never admit that we fall into the “old” category. Although age is “just a number,” maybe it is a number we should address and accept.

Not included on chart: When you need to look at charts to see if you're old.
Source: Pew Research Center

Although as the Funeral Guru, I am constantly thinking about death, my thoughts are even more focused today. I suggest that maybe we should use our BIRTHdays as a reminder of our limited time, but not in a morbid way. Perhaps, we should take a bit of time out of our fun-filled day to celebrate our lives and make wills or get life insurance.

Or, maybe we should do what we always say we will do… put it off until tomorrow…

Death + Dinner = Delicious. Bloomberg Media recently highlighted the “death dinners,” which recently collaborated with Everplans, in an effort to get people to discuss end-of-life plans while they’re healthy...and hungry.

Let’s Have Dinner and Talk About Death” has facilitated hundreds of these not-so morbid meals. The site offers a simple multiple choice questionnaire helping people choose attendees (parents, friends, co-workers...), clarify their talking points (“I have recently lost someone very close to me…”), a list of article/video/podcast resources, and a helpful activation email that allows you to get the party started.

Everplans teamed with DeathOverDinner.org and created a helpful workbook so death dinner survivors could turn their talk into action after the evening was over.

The Bloomberg article also includes a video and nifty infographic labeling America a “Death-Denying Society," part of which focuses on cremation and funeral costs:

The graphic goes on to explain how “end-of-life care decisions, medical intervention and burial wishes are topics that most baby boomers would rather ignore. However, with a 32 percent increase in the number of people dying in the U.S. by 2030, it will force countless decisions on how we die.” Not such a yummy statistic, but this is something DeathOverDinner.org and Everplans are working to correct, one placesetting at a time.