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Learning in the wake of tragedy

As I See It

Is there a lesson for all of us in the JFK Jr. tragedy?

The recent airplane accident that claimed the life of John F. Kennedy Jr., his wife and her sister was a wake-up call for me. Number one, it confirmed my aversion to flying in a single-engine aircraft. I have it on good authority that a skilled pilot can land satisfactorily on one engine of a twin-engine plane. Though at the time of writing, it is not known what caused the crash, I like the idea of a second chance in the event of mechanical failure.

Number two, I am reminded that fate plays a hand in all of our lives and sometimes the young and upcoming are taken away unexpectedly. I am neither young nor upcoming but, nonetheless, I have decided to revisit my personal affairs anyway.

IS THERE SOMETHING I NEED TO SAY TO SOMEONE?

The death of my father last year has caused me to ponder the status of my relationships. Due to the length of his illness, I was able to say most of the things I needed for my father to hear before his passing. Is there another neglected relationship out there in need of some attention? The answer for many of us is probably “yes.”

WHERE IS MY `STUFF` ANYWAY?

A good starting point for me, and perhaps for you too, is centralizing documentation of my business affairs in a known and accessible place. I know all of the investments, property, debts, etc. of which I am possessed, but would anyone else know where to begin to sort out my affairs? A notebook with a “page per thing” is a good starting point. The location of bank accounts, safe deposit boxes, investment accounts, partnership agreements, stock certificates and insurance policy info would be helpful in the event of my untimely demise.

WHAT TO DO WITH MY `STUFF?`

I don’t have much stuff but I do have an idea of what I would like done with it when I’m gone. How are my representatives to know what to do with my guns, guitars, Tabasco tie, money etc. if I don’t tell them whilst I am still around?

Everyone, repeat everyone, needs a will to direct the disposition of their “stuff.” All states havelaws of dissent and distribution which govern the disposition of property for those who “check-out” without a will. It would truly be incredulous if the law and your desires happen to coincide. Additionally, there are important tax reasons to have a will.

WHAT ABOUT NON-FINANCIAL CONSIDERATIONS?

Where do you want to be buried? Have you made burial arrangements? How about donating organs for transplanting to someone else? A letter to your executor could be used to cover your instructions such as these. Do you have, or want, a living will which authorizes a named person(s) to terminate life support in the event that you find yourself in a vegetative state with no prospect for recovery?

HAVE YOU CONSIDERED ESTATE TAXES?

There really is something wrong with death being a taxable event, but it is. Though the exemption for estate taxes is over $600,000 and increasing, many small business owners could find themselves in a taxable situation. A little planning with a qualified expert can minimize, if not eliminate, any taxes due at your death.

WILL YOUR BUSINESS CONTINUE?

Every business needs a viable succession plan whereby the business could continue after the demise of the owner. Younger people frequently don’t consider a succession plan because, after all, they have years and years to think about such things. Do they?

THOUGHT FOR THE MOMENT

It is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the Providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and to humbly implore His protection and favor.

— JAMES MADISON,

Father of the U.S. Constitution

Joe D. Jones, CPA, is publisher of the Mississippi Business Journal. His e-mail address is cpajones@msbusiness.com.

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