Avoiding “Mass” Panic

Thirty years ago, I was sitting an a classroom at Tulsa Junior College, (now TCC), taking an “Intro to Psychology” course. During the semester, we looked at the emotions that businesses try to tap in their advertising.  Among the top emotions was fear. Often that fear is simply a product of ignorance.

Now fast forward to last night. I watched a commercial for Mass Mutual Insurance Company, where a man and woman (presumably brother and sister) are talking about their recently departed mother. Their mom had no insurance, and the couple were worriedly wondering how they would pay for the costs of the funeral and other expenses like her medical bills.  Oh, if mom had only had the foresight to purchase life insurance.

Certainly, I deal with many people every year with the same concerns. The problem is that the commercial deals in half-truths. While it is certainly true that those left behind will be responsible for any funeral, burial or other post-mortem costs that they choose, there is no legal obligation to do anything. As hard-hearted as it sounds, the kids can simply refuse to do anything, and it becomes an issue for the local authorities. Even then, a small funeral and burial policy is fairly inexpensive, and can cover these expenses.

But what about the other bills? Medical, credit card and other debt is never the responsibility of the next generation. The only way that a person can be held liable for the expenses of another (even a parent or child) is when that person signs an agreement to be liable for that debt. The only relief that a creditor has for the debts of the deceased is the property owned by the deceased at the time of death.

Two comments are appropriate here. First, a different set of rules apply to the spouse of the deceased, but here other protections are in place for the surviving spouse. Secondly, I am not advocating that you do without life insurance. It is a powerful tool in estate planning, but the cost must be considered when considering the benefit.

It costs nothing to consult with a competent Estate Planning Attorney to get answers to these and other questions. For Oklahoma Estate Planning questions, call me at (918) 258-2711.

Find more information at the Oklahoma Law Website

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