FamilyLife Today® Podcast

If Something Happens to Me, Part 2

with Joe Hearn, Niel Nielsen | September 23, 2008
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There's an old saying that goes, "Where there's a will, there's a way", but sometimes, finding that Last Will and Testament can be a huge challenge for surviving family members--and at the worst possible time! Today on the broadcast, financial planner Joe Hearn and attorney Niel Nielsen explain the ins and outs of organizing important life documents such as wills, trusts, living wills, and durable power of attorney.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • There's an old saying that goes, "Where there's a will, there's a way", but sometimes, finding that Last Will and Testament can be a huge challenge for surviving family members--and at the worst possible time! Today on the broadcast, financial planner Joe Hearn and attorney Niel Nielsen explain the ins and outs of organizing important life documents such as wills, trusts, living wills, and durable power of attorney.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

There’s an old saying that goes, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way”, but sometimes, finding that Last Will and Testament can be a huge challenge for surviving family members–and at the worst possible time!

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If Something Happens to Me, Part 2

With Joe Hearn, Niel Nielsen
September 23, 2008
| Download Transcript PDF


Bob: If something should happen to you in the future, and you were on life support, would you rather have a written document to determine what should be done, or would you want that power in the hands of your spouse or a loved one?  Here is attorney Neil Neilson.

Neil: Even though it is a very difficult time for a spouse, I think it is always much better to introduce the common-sense decision-making that a person brings to that rather than have your decision-making be ruled by a document that an attorney drafted, possibly years ago, when medicine maybe was much different than it is now.

[musical transition]

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, September 23rd.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  Have you thought about what you could do today that might help a family member or a loved one if something was to happen to you tomorrow?

[musical transition]  

And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us.  I'm really excited this week because we have it on record that a year from this week Dennis Rainey's financial house is going to be fully in order.  Is that right?

Dennis: I'm going to have …

Bob: You're crawfishing a little bit.

Dennis: No, no, no, I just know that you're going to probably come back technically and say, "Now, what does the word 'fully' mean?"

Bob: What does 'is' mean?


Dennis: I'm going to have this green binder that is entitled, "If Something Happens to Me," a document organizer.  It's going to have my …

Bob: It's going to have everything in it that …

Dennis: It's going to have my identity papers, my financial papers, my insurance papers, my estate plan, my will.

Bob: So that if something happens to you –

Dennis: It's all organized right there.

Bob: Barbara is completely taken care of at that point, is that right?

Dennis: Yeah, and if something happens to both of us, our kids will know where to go to get the answers.

Bob: Now, have you got all the documentation you need to fill this folder?

Dennis: I think I do.  We have an active will.  The only thing that I don't think we have, which really has come about because of the recent Terry Schiavo case.

Bob: You don't have a living will?

Dennis: I don't have – well, it's being called a lot of different things – a health care power of attorney, a health care directive, health care proxy – I don't know that my living will, currently, the way it's spelled out is enough, and so I need to go back and visit that with an attorney and find out exactly how that's spelled out.

Bob: Well, just to make sure that you …

Dennis: What's your goal, though?  Are you going to commit to anything, to having a green folder for yourself?

Bob: My goal is to hold you accountable.

Dennis: [laughs]

Bob: For having yours put together.  We're going to get some help for both of us today in terms of how we load this thing up, right?

Dennis: We are.  We've got a couple of guys here – an estate tax attorney as well as a financial planner – Joe Hearn and Neil Neilson join us on FamilyLife Today.  Guys, welcome back.

Joe: Thank you for having us.

Neil: Thank you.

Dennis: You guys have written a book – it's actually not a book, it's a workbook, isn't it?  It's called "If Something Happens to Me," a workbook to help organize your financial and legal affairs, and it's really come about as a result of your work as a financial planner, Joe, and yours, as an estate planner, Neil, in helping families anticipate the issues and have all the directions filled out in advance.

I want to go revisit what took place in Florida just for a second.

Joe: Sure.

Dennis: I want to go to my own personal need for a health care power of attorney.  If I have a living will, is that enough?

Neil: Well, a living will is helpful.  It is a nice tool, and it would have resolved a lot of things that we saw down in Florida.  A living will is simply a declaration to the world – your family, your doctors, anyone who may be interested – that describes or lists the care that you wish to receive or do not wish to receive if you are in an end-of-life situation – if you're in a coma or if you have a terminal condition.  And so a lot of people have a fear that they might be kept in a very bad medical circumstance for a very prolonged period of time because our medicine has advanced to such a place that it can not only provide great benefits, but it can also keep us alive in a coma for an awful long time.

Dennis: Okay, Neil, you're a student of the Bible.  You are also a tax attorney, estate planner.  Without giving us legalese, what does your will, your living will, or your health care power of attorney, say to your loved ones in the event you were in some kind of coma like – well, not like what she had happen.  We don't know for sure what all was taking place down there.

Neil: Right.  That case is such a tough one, because all the facts of it coincide to make it really difficult, but what I have is what's called "health care power of attorney," and what a health care power of attorney does is designate a person, such as my wife, Julie, to make health care decisions for me if I become incapacitated, not only in an end-of-life situation but if I am just living and cannot make my own decisions for myself.

It also includes what's called a "health care directive," which is similar to the language that we see in a living will – that in a health power of attorney it does not dictate to anyone what they must always or what they must never do.  My power of attorney gives Julie the ability to make decisions for me and instruct the doctors or the hospital on what they should or should not do.

Bob: You know, we just had to wrestle with this, because as we drafted our will, one of the issues that came to light was this living will document, and what we wanted to do related to health care.  And we got to the point in the decision-making process where we had to decide do I want Mary Ann to be the one making that decision at that time or do I want to direct now, at this point, what I want to have happen so that she doesn't have the burden of having to make that decision at that point in time.  That's the tricky question, and it's one that almost caused us to pull back and not finish the will again for another five years because, frankly, do I want Mary Ann, in the middle of a stressful situation when the doctor comes and says, "Mrs. Lepine, do you want us to do X or Y?"  That's a hard decision to make.

Neil: That is tough, and you very eloquently stated the difference between a living will and a durable power of attorney.  And as I've watched this case down in Florida, one thing that strikes me is that even though it is a very difficult time for a spouse, if we find ourselves in these types of medical situations, I think it is always much better to introduce the common-sense decision-making that a person brings to that rather than have your decision-making be ruled by a document that an attorney drafted, possibly years ago, when medicine maybe was much different than it is now.  And so that's one of the weaknesses of a living will is it just is a document that dictates what you should or should not do, where a power of attorney designates a decision-maker, and even though it's tough, usually, we want our spouses or our families making those decisions rather than just referring to a document.

Bob: And that's where we landed.  We decided that we would handle that for one another in the event that either of us was in that situation and, as a husband, I felt like that's hard to shift that responsibility to your wife in that moment.  But I said, you know, "Between you and the Lord, I think you can come up with a good decision, honey."

Dennis: Yeah, and, you know, these aren't easy issues, but they all demand planning, conversation, discussion, and they also demand that we be good stewards not only in one another's lives but of what God has given us, and what you guys have attempted to do in your workbook, "If Something Happens to Me," along with the – well, I guess it's – what would you call this, a plastic …

Joe: We just refer to it as the document organizer.  But it's like a plastic briefcase type of thing.

Dennis: Yeah, it's broken down to help me get my stuff together so that a year from now when I do this, Bob will have a guide to be able to help him be able to do it.  Take us through the very high points of your workbook, because you talk about personal information.  And you don't think of this as being important, but contact information, who the children are, and other dependents that may be there, employment information, professional advisors – all of those are key points of information that somebody has to go gather.

Joe: Right.  When you talk about this subject, so many people, they hit on the big ones, and we talked about a few today, like a will or life insurance, and when you talk to people about that they say, "Well, I've got a will, so I'm all taken care of," but there are so many different things, really, that you need to deal with and have in place that somebody else is going to have to deal with when you pass away that, again, the book just really acts as a good resource to kind of take you through those step-by-step.

You had mentioned the personal information – that's the first section, and it just talks about, okay, here's our name, here is our address, here is our Social Security number, here is our telephone number, here is how to get in touch with our kids if something happens, here's their addresses and their Social Security numbers.

The second section is your financial information.  So it starts with your assets in terms of, you know, we all think of the different things that we have out there.  You know, you think of your bank accounts, brokerage accounts, your IRAs, if you have a retirement plan at work, if you own a business, your cars, your house – all those things come with documents, all of those things come with ownership, and with ownership comes authority to act.  And so you need to tell people out there, "Here are the different things that I have," and that's especially for that person who has authority to act if something happened to you.

Bob: Now, obviously, this workbook is something that you put together at a point in time.  Dennis is going to have his filled out a year from now, but you have to update it.  You've got to come back to this, what, every six months, every year, how often do you do that?

Joe: Yeah, it's important to keep things up to date, and obviously a lot of those things are changing.  Some of them change more rapidly than others.  The final section of the book just takes you through a series of questions and asks you things like, "Have you had a spouse die in the last year?"  "Have you been married?"  "Have you been divorced?"  "Have you had kids?"  "Have you inherited any money?"  It just takes you through a series of different questions, kind of yes/no things, and then it says, "If you answered yes to this particular question, then you need to go to section three in the book and amend that and then update it, because these things are changing a lot, and it's important to have them up-to-date.  It's not just as bad, but it's bad to have it out-of-date just as much as it's bad to not have it done at all.

Bob: Neil, I've heard people say that it's possible to take some of the money that would go to the government at death in estate taxation and instead of it going to the government at death, it can go to a nonprofit organization, to a church or to a ministry.  And it's really trading dollars, as I understand it.  You can decide I either want the government to get it, or I want my church to get it.  Is that for real?

Neil: It's for real.  If you had a large estate that was subject to federal estate tax, property that gets transferred to any charitable organization is deductible from our federal estate tax.  So any dollar that might be going to Uncle Sam, if you plan to have that dollar go to charity instead, you have that choice.  You can pay no federal estate tax as long as you're benefiting a charity.

Bob: You need to sit down with a planner or an attorney to draw something up there?

Neil: You would.  Any estate that's large enough right now to be subject to federal estate tax, you should be involving an estate planning attorney or probably some other advisors to help you put that type of a plan in place.

Bob: And the number on that today is, what, a million-and-a-half?

Neil: Right now it's $1.5 million.

Dennis: For a couple or for an individual?

Neil: Each of us has the ability to pass $1.5 million of value on to our beneficiaries free of federal estate tax.  So a husband and wife has the ability, if they plan properly, to pass $3 million to their family before a federal estate tax would kick in.

Bob: I don't need to worry about that.

Dennis: Nor do I. 

Neil: A lot of people do.

Dennis: Nor do I.  You know, one of the sections in your workbook talks about insurance, and I think we immediately think of life insurance, but there are other kinds of insurance where you need to write down what the insurance is and who it's with, because there may be some death benefits in there.  There's health insurance, disability insurance, long-term care insurance, homeowners' insurance, home contents insurance, auto, dental, umbrella insurance, renters' insurance.

Bob: I have no insurance for my umbrella.  Do I need that?


Neil: What kind of umbrella do you have? 


Dennis: Anything that we need to know about insurance, though, as we think about estate planning?

Joe: Yeah, that's a great point.  When you mention insurance, a lot of times people think life insurance, and one of the things we always try to get across to people is that even if you have life insurance, or even if you have some of these different documents, they are only useful if you know where those different things are, and a lot of times you need those at stressful times in your life.

You mentioned life insurance.  We need a life insurance policy after we've lost somebody that we love.  We don't want to be searching around to try to find where that is.  We need our auto insurance after we've gotten in a car accident.  We need all those sorts of different things – we need our powers of attorney after we've been hospitalized or someone we love has been hospitalized.  And so you want to have it all in one place so that you can grab it and go in an event like that or, again, as a resource during life. 

You mentioned the different types of insurance, and the good thing about the book, I think, of course, I'm probably a little bit biased, but the good thing about the book is it just doesn't say, you know, "Here is a place to write down your life insurance."  Because it's written from our standpoint, from the advisor standpoint, we'll say, "Here is what this is."  Maybe somebody doesn't know what disability insurance is, or maybe somebody doesn't know what long-term care insurance is.  Here is a person that needs long-term care insurance.  Here are some things that you should look for when purchasing long-term care insurance if you decide that you are one of those people that might need it. 

And so it acts as a resource to kind of take a person through those different steps and says, "Okay, here is what this particular item is, here is who needs it, and if you decide you needed it, go talk with your advisor.  If you're going to talk with your advisor, here are some things that you're going to want to ask them and talk to them about, make sure is in your policy, and then once you've got that, if you needed it, here is a place to record the details of that, who your advisor is, the contact information, how to get ahold of them, and here is the organizer that has the policy in it," that a person could go and grab right away and know where it's at.

Bob: Neil, what about somebody who is listening and says, you know, "I not only don't have a will, I don't have enough money to go get an attorney to get a will.  But I did hear about this thing on radio that I can send away for for $39.95 or I saw a form on the Internet or I have done a holographic will.  I've just written out my thoughts, and I've got that in a lockbox."  Is that okay?

Neil: You're talking to an attorney about that question.


Well, having a will prepared by an attorney is not necessarily as expensive as most people think that it is, and there are some forms out there that some are good, some are bad.  The difficulty is that when I prepare a document, I recognize that the words in that document have legal significance, and the order in which they are placed on the page has legal significance.  And when people try to do their own, they don't always recognize the effect that they're having when they put that in place.

Our book is not a do-it-yourself will plan.  It assumes that you're going to tackle some of that planning and that you're going to use advisors to do that and, in most cases, people can find an attorney that can help them put an estate plan in place relatively inexpensively.

Bob: And it could be, you know, that a local church would get an attorney who would give up a Saturday and sit down with folks who are in a tough spot and say, "Come on up, and I'll help you get your stuff," or "I'll review it with you," and help those who can't afford it in a particular set of circumstances.

I guess the question is, if somebody is going, "Well, when I get enough money to call an attorney, I'll do that."  Should that person sit down today, write out some intent, put it in the lockbox, not think that they've got the problem solved, but is that a stopgap measure?  Is that better than nothing, or would they be better letting the state handle it?

Neil: That's a tough question. 

Dennis: Bob almost was an attorney.  He almost became …

Bob: I took the LSAT, that's as far as I got, all right?

Neil: Boy, I saw my life pass before my eyes when I took that test.  Sometimes, I have clients, I always tell them when we do a plan that there will be times where they will update it, and when they update it, they probably need to contact me.  I've had clients that will write on their own documents that say I prepared a will for them, and they decide they want to change something, so they'll cross things out, and they'll write new things in, and, boy, I know that they knew what they wanted when they did that, but when someone passes away, and all the rest of us pull those documents out to try and figure out what it was they meant, sometimes they leave it open for discussion, and that's not a discussion that you normally want to have at that point.  And so it's tough.

Dennis: You don't want to cut corners, especially if your loved ones could be hurt by you not being a good steward.  I think that's what I'm hearing you say.

Neil: That's true, and I see a lot of young couples that are coming to me because maybe they just had a child, like Joe did, and they recognize that now is the time that they need to answer that question – who is going to take care of my child if something happens to both of us?  And, really, the planning is not as expensive as people might think.  You look around at what we spend our money on and the amounts that we spend for those things – you can probably get a good estate plan for a young couple for less than what it might cost to buy a good-size television set.

Dennis: You know, Barbara and I got on a plane and flew to South Africa when our family was very young.  Joe, about the same age as your little one, maybe we had a child or two more at that point …

Bob: … or three or four.

Dennis: No, not at the first trip, but, you know, I remember getting on that plane, and I had a little bit of an uneasy feeling, because we hadn't landed some of these issues.  And so when we got back, we did lay out who was going to take care of our kids, and I remember laughing about that document, because we had an attorney draft it up, we signed it, had it notarized, had a couple of copies – one at the office, one at home, and it really became kind of laughable to see how much that document changed over the years.  But a will is a place where you land today, where you make a decision, and you don't have to stay there in concrete for the rest of your life.  You can change the way it's all laid out and who you select to take care of your kids and how that is all determined and the process that goes about and, frankly, has created a lot of comfort for Barbara and me.

And I think what your book does, what your workbook here, is it gives a husband and a wife a chance to talk about some key issues that they may have talked all around, and it gives them a chance to land the plane, to really share where they are about a conviction and then move on, and I just appreciate you guys putting this together and look forward to seeing what other resources you guys create in the future.

Joe: You bet.

Dennis: Thanks for being on FamilyLife Today.

Joe: Thanks for having us.

Bob: You know, I could imagine a couple deciding that every year on some kind of a significant date, maybe around their anniversary or near Valentine's Day, or sometime on a regular schedule, they're going to sit down and express their love for one another by getting out this book or by booting up the computer and uploading the Forms CDs and just saying, "Are we up to date on all of this?" and reviewing what's in here.  It really is a demonstration of your love for one another to have this kind of information readily available, easily accessible, in case something should happen to either one of you.

We have, in our FamilyLife Resource Center, both the workbook and the companion Forms CD that you can use to record all of this information, to help prompt you for what kind of information you need to have up to date.  And then there is the carrying case where you can actually store all of your papers if you're interested in that as well.

Go to and when you get to our home page, on the right side of the home page, there is a box that says "Today's Broadcast."  If you click where it says "Learn More," that will take you to the area of the site where you can get more information about these resources.

Again, our website is  If it's easier, simply call 1-800-FLTODAY, 1-800-358-6329, that's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY, and someone on our team can answer any questions you have about what's available and make arrangements to have whatever you need sent out to you.

And we hope you will keep in mind when you do get in touch with us that FamilyLife Today is listener-supported.  It is folks like you who help support this ministry.  You keep us on the air not only in this city but in other cities all across the country, and we do appreciate that partnership. 

This month, if you are able to help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today with a donation of any amount, we would like to say thank you and to do that we have a couple of CDs we would like to send you.  It features a conversation we had not long ago with Dr. Emerson Eggerichs who wrote the book, "Love and Respect."  In these programs we talked about communication in marriage, and about what we can do as husbands and wives to understand one another more effectively and to express ourselves more effectively.

We are happy to send you these CDs upon request when you make a donation this month of any amount to support the ministry of FamilyLife Today.  If you're donating online at, you'll come to a keycode box on the donation form.  Just type the word "code" in there, c-o-d-e, and we'll know to send you the CDs with Dr. Emerson Eggerichs on the subject of communication.

Or call 1-800-FLTODAY, make a donation over the phone and simply request the two-CD set on communication.  Again, we're happy to send it out to you, and we do appreciate your support of this ministry.

Now, tomorrow we're going to talk with two brothers who are filmmakers – actually, they've been filmmakers ever since they were growing up together and making movies in their backyard with the video camera.  We'll talk with Alex and Stephen Kendrick tomorrow about their latest movie, which is called "Fireproof."  It comes out in theaters this weekend, and I hope you can join us for that conversation.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas – help for today; hope for tomorrow. 


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