If ‘where there’s a will there’s a way’ rings true, HPD officers are losing their way without a will

Tom Kennedy

There is an old saying that goes like this: Where there’s a will there’s a way.

 

Before we go deeper into the subject of ways with last wills and testaments, let’s throw a staid old cliché into the mix. You’ve heard it many times and now is the time to disprove it once and for all.

 

And it goes like this:

 

“I’m not writing a will. If I do, the attorneys will get everything when I die; my family will get nothing.”

 

No Will = Higher Cost

 

As any well informed person will tell you, this cliché has no meat on the bone and ranks as a blatantly ill-premised. A properly written will that includes the writer’s properly dispersed assets almost always requires little intervention by an attorney or a probate judge.

 

In short, it’s best to spend enough time with an attorney to write your will. No one advocates this practice more than HPD’s Family Assistance Officer Mike Newsome. On an annual basis Newsome provides service to about 50 families of officers who incur the grief and pain of planning funerals and handling estates.

 

Newsome, as well as any attorney worth his or her salt, will tell you that if you have no will the chances of an attorney getting more of the money left in your estate go up like Houston temperatures in August and September.

 

“I cringe each time we have an employee die and does not have a will,” a grim-faced Newsome told the Badge & Gun. “The cost of possible probate will amount to many more dollars than if the employee put his or her wishes in writing with an attorney

 

“Then families have much less to worry about and save a lot of nervousness if they are prepared.”

 

Of that average annual total of 50 officer deaths, Newsome said on average only about seven or eight have a document known as a “last will and testament.”

 

“Oft-times the first experience an officer has with funeral planning is for a love one, such as a deceased parent,” Newsome said. “This experience really hits home and makes us reflect on our own life.

 

“We all put off writing a will. Some people even quietly have superstition that if they put their last will in writing, death will soon occur!

 

“The power of positive thought should not eliminate future consequences.  It is very true, people don’t plan to fail; they fail to plan – especially with writing a will.”

 

In the August edition of the B&G, HPOU President Ray Hunt urged every Houston police officer to “take care of your loved ones and complete a will today!”

 

Other Painful Decisions

 

Hunt expressed concern about Newsome’s too-frequent experiences with the families of officers and, yes, retired officers who have no will to guide through perhaps the toughest period of a lifetime. Not having a will “places a huge burden on your next of kin. The Houston Police Officers’ Pension System assists members with wills and there are some available online. Wills requiring extensive work should be completed by an attorney of your choice.”

 

Newsome stressed that “our Family Assistance Unit does not give legal advice” but echoed Hunt’s reminder that HPOPS attorney Nick Dang will assist officers with their wills for no charge. He also pointed out that a Will Fact Sheet can be downloaded from the HPOPS Estate Planning web site along with an engagement letter for the meeting.

 

Also, officers may go to estateplanning@hpops.org or at 713-868-8734.

The law firm of Broemer and Associates PLLC, which represents HPOU and Texas Police Trust, has a procedure for writing a will for any Union member and their spouse. It is a free service. An officer must contact the firm and request appropriate documents that will need to be filled out. It includes a will information sheet. Following the completion of the paperwork, an officer may again contact the firm for an appointment to finalize and execute the will.

Newsome said surviving families of HPD officers and retired officers go through other highly stressful and surely very painful decisions when their loved one has not specified other plans in case of their demise.

 

“Even if you think you cannot get up the nerve to write your will at this moment,” Newsome explained, “there is one other important decision to make, and that is where you want to be buried if you choose ground burial.

 

“From experiences, I believe that a burial plot is cheaper today than it will be tomorrow.  Also, you will have no input into where this site will be if your grieving family members choose it.  All things considered, you should believe it is a great investment in real estate.”

 

A burial plot is just one major decision that, once made, eases the pain and grief of your survivors.

 

“So much has to be done in a very short period of time when a death happens,” Newsome said. “Many times the family meets the very next day after a death and makes the following major decisions:

 

  • What funeral home?
  • What day of the week and time should the funeral take place?
  • Do we have a burial or choose cremation?
  • Do we have a church service or have a graveside service?
  • How much money do we have to spend for a funeral?
  • Who is going to sign the funeral contract and be responsible for the bill?
  • What cemetery do we use?
  • Who will be in charge of all of decedent’s assets and possessions?

 

“In addition to a will and something specifying the answers to these questions,” Newsome advised, “it is also good to sit down and write a list of all your accounts with names, account numbers, phone numbers and any other special notes.

 

“Put all of this in a large envelope and label it “Open only when I die.”

 

Money for the Funeral

 

Each will specifies an executor. “It is very important to convey to your executor of your will or beneficiary of life insurance who should pay for your funeral,” the Family Assistance specialist said. “When we think of who to write down as our beneficiaries on our life insurance, we consider people we love, respect and trust in their decision-making.

 

“Consult with an attorney about assuring that money be set aside to have a decent funeral.  Will the beneficiary know your wishes for him or her to use that money for your funeral or will they think, ‘Bingo, I’ve won!’ ”

 

Newsome stressed one more important consideration when writing a will. Quite simply, he said, do it now!

 

Otherwise, you might leave sound reasoning, logic and common sense behind. Don’t wait until any of the following conditions cloud the issue:

 

  • Possible sickness. You may not be in sound mind when you are very sick.
  • Don’t put extra stress and worry on yourself when you are in the hospital.
  • Family friction. Avoid this possibility by specifying to family members your wishes.