Estate Planning: What Will You Do?

You have a "go-bag" for the rare active shooter and even visualize racing down a school hallway to put a stop to such evil. But do you have a "doomsday file" for your friends and loved ones should something happen to you?

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The other day I lost my mom unexpectedly and went through the sorrow we all feel when someone so dear to us is gone. The one thing that wasn't a trial was the wonderful way my mother had prepared for her passing. It wasn't that she was ill or anything; in fact, she was 86 years old and still sold real estate, doted on her rescue dog, and was very active in the artist community where she lived. She had prepared a will early on and that, as well as the other preparations she had made for her passing, was typical of how she cared for the ones she loved.

Conversely, I kept thinking of stories I'd heard from my friend Chris, a retired Houston sergeant who works for a Texas organization providing benefits to cops, about the nightmares experienced by survivors of fallen crime fighters who hadn't prepared for a possible tragedy. Exes fighting over property, over insurance, over everything. Children left out of benefits, or estates going to court for years with only the lawyers winning in the end.

"Whoa!" you say. "Too intense a topic for the last page of my favorite police magazine!" Nope, it is time to put your big kid pants on and think about how you can make sure the people you care about, and your legacy, are taken care of in the event of our untimely death.

You have a definite advantage over the last guy you helped put in a body bag last week after he got t-boned by that drunk. He thought his life was relatively risk-free since he had chosen to sell insurance instead of being a cop—like his best friend from high school who will weep as he carries the casket next Saturday, then don his uniform and hunt DUIs with the intensity of a starving Great White.

We know we are in a dangerous world and life is precious and fragile, yet we run to the shots, drive in the snow, stay for the hurricane, and live fully in the moment due to that knowledge. We have a "go-bag" for the rare active shooter and even visualize racing down a school hallway to put a stop to such evil, should it come into our town. But do you have a "doomsday file" for your friends and loved ones should something happen to you?

Elite military units ask their people if they have things squared away at home before they go on a mission. Have they told the ones they love that they love them? Have they gotten their affairs in order? For asking these questions, should these military personnel be considered pessimists? Not at all; the military can't have these warriors wishing and thinking and worrying about things at home when they need total concentration on the "now."

You may say, "But it is just me, no kids, no spouse!" I have heard that before. No parents, no friends, no one who cares enough to close your accounts, sign off your Facebook, or take your dog? Then disregard if you choose. But if you want to make sure all your affairs are properly taken care of, then read on.

A "Doomsday File" is a compendium of your will, your passwords, your bank accounts, your insurance, copies of titles for your vehicles, health insurance information, funeral instructions, pension information, financial information (loans, savings, checking, etc.), contact information, and anything else you feel should be taken care of in the unlikely event of your death. The executor of your will should have copies of all of these documents.

Social media sites and passwords should be given to a law enforcement confidant with instructions to "open only in the event of my demise," so that these might be shut down immediately to prevent postings that could be a problem for your memory or your family.

Finally, update, update, update! I had a very close friend die years ago in a terrible accident. After his funeral his ex arrived at his house, changed the locks, and threw his fiancée and 13-year-old son out. Even though he had been divorced for years my friend had never changed his will…damn.

So, go on your next high-risk call with a clear, focused mind. Have your affairs in order.

Dave Smith is an internationally recognized law enforcement trainer and is the creator of "J.D. Buck Savage." You can follow Buck on Twitter at @thebucksavage.

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Officer (Ret.)
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