John McQueen: [00:01] Welcome to Anderson‑McQueen’s radio show, “Undertakings.” I’m John McQueen, president and owner of Anderson‑McQueen Funeral Homes. As always on this show, we undertake those subjects that you want to know about.
[00:15] Remember, if there’s a specific topic you would like us to talk about, or if you have a question you would like us to ask one of our upcoming guests, please email them to firstname.lastname@example.org. We always do our best to include everyone’s request if at all possible.
[00:34] Our topic today is “Life Plan Law.” Our special guest is Catherine Blackburn with Blackburn Law Firm, who will help us in undertaking this worthy subject. Welcome, Cathy.
Catherine Blackburn: [00:48] Thank you. I’m happy to be here.
John: [00:51] We’re excited to have you join us today and bring your much‑needed insights to our listeners on topics you refer to as life plan law. Before we jump into the topic, maybe you could take just a few moments to share with us a little background about yourself and Blackburn Law, as well as what drove you to become the leading authority on life plan law.
Catherine: [01:16] Thank you, John. That’s an interesting story. I started my career as a pharmacist. I’m afraid I found that boring. I went to law school at Ohio State. I graduated and I practiced medical legal law for 30 years.
[01:37] I have to tell you, in those 30 years I saw over and over how traditional estate planning did not work very well for people when the unexpected happened. In 2012, I gave up medical legal work and I focused full‑time on life planning.
John: [02:00] You mentioned that you saw how traditional estate planning didn’t work well for many families, and now you focus on the life law planning side of things. Tell us, what’s the difference? What makes life plan law different from estate planning?
Catherine: [02:19] To me, estate planning means what happens to a person’s stuff after they pass. That’s important. It is important to me and it’s important to put legal documents in place to handle it.
[02:36] However, in my practice, I am as concerned about how life works for people when they’re here as I am about what happens to their stuff when they’re gone. The difference in life plan law and estate planning is a pretty significant focus on handling life and having it work the way people want it to work throughout their life.
John: [03:03] That sounds not only interesting but it sounds like it’s definitely an important part. We all want to make sure that hopefully life goes as smoothly as it can, both before and after the loss.
[03:21] In reviewing your website, Cathy, I see that you surely do handle many aspects of law that encompass not only life planning but really life, as you were saying. Can you share with us some of the various aspects you cover, and why it’s so important for our listeners to bring a life plan law attorney such as yourself into the equation?
Catherine: [03:42] Absolutely. Part of what I do is look at how people live their lives right now. We need to start where we are, right? I find out what’s important to each person right now and in their future. Who’s important to them? What’s their job, their business or their career? What are their assets? What are their obligations?
[04:09] We talk about what will happen if they’re injured or disabled. This is where traditional estate planning assumes that everybody has this figured out, but they don’t. Most of us don’t think it’s fun to go talk to a lawyer about what happens if I can’t take care of myself, but it is important to know.
[04:35] It’s important to know that if something happens, you know who will help you, you know how they’re going to help you, you have legal documents that will allow them to help you, and you’ve arranged your business and personal assets so that somebody can help you.
[04:54] Many times, people forget about their business. I deal with small businesses every day. People tend to establish their business, run their business and never think about what happens if something happens to the critical person in that business.
John: [05:13] Sure. That business can even be the business of a family, or the business of caring for your pets, I guess, or all the different things we’ve talked about before we went live here.
[05:26] In many ways, people, most of the time, don’t want to talk to their funeral director about dying. I guess it’s nice to know that there’s somebody else they may not want to talk to, but how critical and important it is that they do.
Catherine: [05:44] There are many parallels between what we do, and I’m afraid that is one of them.
John: [05:50] Again, being in the funeral business, unfortunately we often serve families who have no will or other estate plans in place. When I was on your website, I saw you have a simple life plan package available for individuals. Can you tell our listeners a little about the simple life plan and how they can go about getting started on something like that?
Catherine: [06:13] The simple life plan is designed for people who hesitate to come into a lawyer’s office and spend two hours or more talking in detail about their affairs, or perhaps they just don’t need that kind of service. They know what they want, they know who they want to help them, and they know who should receive their assets upon their death.
[06:37] If this is you, my website contains a short questionnaire. You go to www.lifeplanlaw.com, click on “Simple Life Plan,” and it will take you to the questionnaire. The questionnaire comes up, you fill it out, at 2:00 AM if you like, and it will then send it to me in my office.
[07:03] I’ll review it, talk with you on the phone, and prepare your documents. Then you come into the office for one short visit, execute your documents, receive your originals and your copies and go on your way.
John: [07:18] Wow. That does sound simple.
Catherine: [07:19] It is.
John: [07:22] I commend you for having that. I was intrigued when I saw on there, “Simple life plan,” and I did click on it and I saw that you could fill out pretty much all the information you needed to let you know so you could put together all the documentation.
[07:38] You’re right, it’s the 2:00 in the morning time when we can’t sleep, you got all that stuff on your mind, “I got to get things taken care of to make my life simpler.” Going on and filling out that simple life plan might be the best thing to do at 2:00 in the morning.
Catherine: [07:52] Absolutely. Rest assured, at the end of the questionnaire, there’s a question where you can ask me any additional questions that you might have, or tell me something in particular that you think I need to know.
John: [08:05] I hope our listeners will go check it out on lifeplanlaw.com. I also understood that a large area of your practice, in fact probably an area of specialization for you, is LGBT law. Can you share what’s different for LGBT people as it relates to life planning?
Catherine: [08:29] Life planning for LGBT people is both the same and different from traditional life planning. The most important thing about LGBT planning is everyone is welcome in my practice ‑‑ lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or any label you might apply. My practice focuses on a world that works for everyone with no‑one left out.
[08:57] Every potential client is free to discuss what is important to him or her. Often for LGBT people, the folks closest to them are not spouses. That’s changing now, but for a long time, that was certainly true. For many LGBT people, blood family are not necessarily the people closest to them. Even in accepting families, there are often some members who are not accepting or supportive.
[09:30] Every person deserves to have a caring and supportive person help them if they’re injured or disabled, and everyone deserves to have a caring and supportive person make decisions that are in their best interest. In essence, everyone deserves to live their life in a way that brings them joy.
[09:50] In my practice, we choose caring and supporting people for the helping roles, and then we make sure the legal documents are in place to allow those people to fulfill their roles and ensure the greatest autonomy and joy for the client. We take care of what happens to their assets if they’re disabled or they die.
John: [10:12] I would say as a little follow‑up to that, in our business, we serve everyone. Unfortunately, after the loss, many times it can become a complicated issue if it’s not thought out ahead of time and planned for. Whether they’re just planning their life plan with you or pre‑planning their funeral with us…my mom’s old saying, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
[10:42] You take a little bit of time today, maybe it’s a topic you don’t necessarily want to talk or think about, but take that little bit of time today to plan, it can really in the end make the situation much smoother and easier and assure that the wishes you had and what you wanted are carried out in the right manner.
Catherine: [11:05] No question about that. One of the things that I talk to people about is prepaid and prearranged funeral or cremation arrangements. I think that’s very important. I bring it up because I know people are reluctant to talk about it. When we are discussing an entire life plan that includes an estate plan. That’s just naturally part of it.
[11:31] The other thing that I discuss with people, are the traditional living will questions. I like to say that I spend more time discussing a living will and end‑of‑life decisions than I do discussing powers of attorney.
John: [11:49] That’s an important thing. We all want to have our own beliefs on what we want to have happen to us if we can’t speak or care for ourselves, how we want that last few moments maybe to be. We want to get it just right. It can be a difficult conversation and an emotional conversation, but it’s most of all an important conversation.
Catherine: [12:11] Yes.
John: [12:13] I’ve heard a lot about domestic partnership agreements. Can you tell us a little bit about that for our listeners’ benefit?
Catherine: [12:21] If only more people had a domestic partnership agreement. This is a written agreement about how to handle joint assets and responsibilities. It usually comes up when two people buy a house together or combine bank accounts. If you start a business together, a different company structure would be appropriate.
[12:46] A domestic partnership agreement writes down who pays what and who receives what, when everyone is in agreement and friendly. It prevents a great deal of trouble if you disagree later. One of the riskiest things a couple can do is buy a house and put two people on the deed when they didn’t really intend to share everything 50/50.
John: [13:14] Sure, that can be a difficult thing.
Catherine: [13:18] The law of unintended consequences is likely to appear in the future.
John: [13:26] You reference it back to even owning a company or starting a partnership for a company. Same kind of thing. I hear oftentimes people say, “We’re different, it’s going to be all a bed of roses going forward in life.” We all want to focus on the joy and the happiness and don’t want to expect that maybe something’s not going to work out the way we intend.
[13:52] Once again, it really does come back to what your website says, and that’s planning for life with life plan law.
Catherine: [14:02] Exactly. If people don’t want to be married, if you’re married, now you’re in the domestic relations laws. We have laws, and I don’t do that kind of work, but it doesn’t always go smoothly.
[14:16] If we don’t have a marriage, we have none of that. There are no standards, so it’s very important to have an agreement up front. Those agreements are perfectly legal and enforceable in Florida. I promise, they will avoid many problems.
John: [14:33] Really in life, that’s what we all want to do, avoid the problems. I know it sounds probably for our listeners like we keep coming back to this planning ahead, but that’s really what it’s all about, planning and putting a plan in place that’s going to meet the needs and the desires of every party involved.
[14:53] I wanted to back up a minute. I know you mentioned a moment ago about living wills. We do hear a lot about living wills and healthcare surrogate designations and how important they are for all individuals. Can you tell us a little bit about why they may be especially important for members of the LGBT community and explain to us why that is so important?
Catherine: [15:21] The LGBT community has a collective history surrounding AIDS and HIV. I remember the early 1980s, when no‑one knew why gay men were dying from rare infections. It was frightening and tragic. Not everyone embraced gay men with HIV and AIDS. Even families rejected them or snatched them away from their loved ones or communities.
[15:50] Those times are passed, and frankly I give great credit to the healthcare and funeral service providers who acted courageously and delivered compassionate and dignified service to everyone.
John: [16:04] Thank you.
Catherine: [16:06] The law is written for the ordinary circumstance. A person’s spouse or children will make healthcare decisions for the incapacitated patient. This doesn’t often apply to LGBT people. Even if blood family is supportive, they’re not always the closest to the patient.
[16:26] Since the law gives blood family the authority to make healthcare decisions for someone who’s incapacitated, LGBT people simply must put a written healthcare surrogate designation in place if they want their closest partner or friend to assist with healthcare needs. It’s just critically important.
John: [16:50] I know I have some friends in the healthcare industry, and I know nowadays it seems like probably one of the first questions they ask you is, “Do you have a living will? Do you have a healthcare surrogate designation?” Things like that, so that they know who should be the appropriate person that can make decision for you.
Catherine: [17:14] Exactly. Florida is, as you can imagine, very strongly in favor of all medical interventions. If you do not want all medical interventions at the end of life, you simply must do a living will.
John: [17:33] As I understand it, it’s much as you said, they go to the full extremes, because their job is to save your life unless you have something in place.
[17:47] It’s my understanding that once the feeding tube is in or once the respirator’s in, getting them to take that off is a lot tougher than if they have this healthcare surrogate designation or this living will, it would really help prevent a lot of that. Is that correct?
Catherine: [18:05] It is. It’s very important that we write down our preferences so that the people who have to sign for it aren’t left with the entire decision. I can imagine what would be difficult. I’ve faced it in my own family, my own life, the need to make decisions for someone else. It is important to give those people as much guidance as possible.
John: [18:34] My children are rather young, but I know when my father passed away, my brother and sister and I had to make the decision to remove him from life support. As you said, it was sort of a joint decision of the three of us. It wasn’t like one of us had to carry the full burden.
[18:51] I know my kids have said before, “Dad, I don’t know if I could be the one to make that decision.” It’s probably very important to make sure that whoever they are designating, that that person can make the appropriate decision for them at that time.
Catherine: [19:07] Absolutely, it is. It’s important they’re comfortable with it. We don’t want to ask someone who can’t do it to do it.
John: [19:17] Like so many things in life, it’s probably important that they talk about that ahead of time and make sure…
Catherine: [19:23] Another fun topic over the dinner table.
John: [19:25] Exactly [laughs] . Also, in reference to wills and things, I know you’re well versed in this, but as I know from having dealt with many families who maybe don’t have a will, Florida has a will for them prepared if they don’t have a will. It may not be the will that they want for the disposition of their property and things.
[19:50] How important is it to have a will? We hear about trusts. Is it more important to have a trust? How do we determine that? Specifically for members of the LGBT community, any special advice you would give them in reference to a will and trusts?
Catherine: [20:08] How about, “It’s important to do one?” Did you expect me to say anything different [laughs] ?
John: [20:14] I didn’t think so, but…
Catherine: [20:17] There are some general differences again with LGBT people. When I speak about this topic, I often say, as you do, you tell me you don’t have a will, but I tell you, you do. It was written by the Florida legislature and is probably not the way you would do it.
[20:37] As with healthcare directives, the law makes assumptions about passing assets after death. It assumes that assets should go to spouses and children. Maybe LGBT people do not have spouses or children. Even if they do, it may not be the way that the legislature would have things distributed.
[21:03] People don’t understand that it doesn’t all go to a spouse. If you have a spouse and children who are not children of the spouse, it’ll be split between the two. In today’s world, where we have blended families and second marriages, it’s critically important to speak to an estate planning or life planning lawyer in order to make sure that your wishes are actually carried out.
[21:32] You asked me about the difference between a will and a trust and which is important. We don’t have time today to talk about all of those.
[21:43] Suffice it to say that a will goes to probate court and a trust is a private document that handles assets for you while you’re alive, if you’re incapacitated, and after you pass. For some people, a trust makes a lot of sense. For others, a will is perfectly sufficient. It’s a personal decision.
John: [22:08] One best talk directly with you about that, then.
Catherine: [22:11] Absolutely. That’s one of the things that we talk about.
John: [22:15] I wanted to talk on a subject that’s close to home for me, since we are in the funeral business. Oftentimes in our business, when a death occurs, relatives and others step in to take control of the individual’s remains, many times leaving the deceased partner without a say.
[22:32] Unfortunately, without proper advice and planning, the funeral home is limited in what they can do because of state statutes, as you and I had talked about previously. What suggestions might you offer for members of the LGBT community in regards to funeral planning?
Catherine: [22:53] You’re exactly correct. The funeral home is limited unless the individual legally and effectively expresses his or her wishes prior to death. The best way to express your wishes is to pre‑plan and prepay your funeral arrangements or your final arrangements, whatever they may be.
[23:15] I like to say that pre‑planning is a gift we give to those we leave behind. The day we lose a loved one in death is not the day we want to handle endless details of planning and figuring out how to pay for final arrangements. If we pre‑plan, our loved ones make one telephone call and then turn to their own grieving process and celebrating who we are to them.
[23:45] If you don’t want to pre‑plan and prepay with a funeral service like Anderson‑McQueen, and you don’t want the usual suspects, so to speak, to make your final arrangements, that’s your spouse, children, parents, siblings, I can prepare a legal document that will allow your chosen representative to make final arrangements.
[24:09] However, a will is not effective for this purpose. You have to prepare this special legal document.
John: [24:18] Is there a name for that special legal document?
Catherine: [24:20] I call it a designation of agent for disposition of remains.
John: [24:25] A mouthful [laughs] .
Catherine: [24:26] It is. That’s why I don’t tell people what it’s called all the time.
John: [24:29] There you go. That’s great advice. I especially liked what you said about that funeral planning is actually a gift that you give to those who are left behind. I always say that pre‑planning is the greatest gift you’ll ever give someone, the only problem is they won’t know it until the day they need it.
[24:55] What we really want to focus on at Anderson‑McQueen is helping families. As we say, we’re about where the healing begins. We don’t want to make it more difficult for families after the loss. There’s a lot of things to be done, there’s your own personal grieving.
[25:12] We want you to be able to spend that time to celebrate, honor, remember the life and remember the memories and be able to start that journey down the grief path together without having all the extra little bumps along the way.
[25:31] Based on your advice, by doing it ahead of time, it’s definitely a great thing for families. Whether you’re a member of the LGBT community or not, for everyone, it’s an important step in that whole end‑of‑life plan and should be addressed with everyone going forward.
Catherine: [25:53] I could not agree more.
John: [25:55] Thank you. Cathy, we greatly appreciate your expertise today. You’ve definitely enlightened me and our listeners with regards to life planning. If our listeners want to get started on making their own life plan, how best can they reach you to get those things started?
Catherine: [26:13] Probably the best way to reach me is to get on the Internet and go to www.lifeplanlaw.com or give me a call or send me an email. You can also call 727‑826‑0923. We answer our phones.
John: [26:34] Any other final thoughts you might want to share with us on anything I haven’t asked you about that you think the listeners might need to or want to know about that’s important?
Catherine: [26:44] I don’t think there’s anything in additional topics, but John, I really appreciate the opportunity to speak with you and your listeners about this important topic. I love what I do and I welcome the forum to share it with others.
John: [26:59] Thank you, Cathy, and thank you for listening to Anderson‑McQueen’s radio show, Undertakings. Never miss an episode by subscribing to Undertakings at the iTunes store. It’s easy and it’s free. In addition to our podcast, you can also download our free funeral app at the iTunes store or at the app store.
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[27:53] I’m John McQueen with Anderson‑McQueen funeral homes and I thank you for listening to Undertakings.