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How is your estate plan affected by a physician-assisted suicide?

Let me be clear that I am not going to address the pros/cons or moral implications of physician-assisted suicide.  I am not going to give information on how one goes about using physician-assisted suicide or the legal implications of physician-assisted suicide.  My intention is to highlight a couple of issues that affect your estate if you choose to use physician-assisted suicide.

With the recent death of Brittany Maynard, physician-assisted suicide has once again made it into the headlines.  Montana, Oregon, Vermont and Washington allow for certain individuals, through case law or a Death with Dignity statute, to decide when their life will end.  There have been several other states over the years that have presented similar legislation.  If I were a betting woman, I would bet that with the recent media attention this topic has garnered, more states will introduce similar legislation and physician-assisted suicide will become more commonplace.  Based on this reality, I want to cover a couple issues that arise with physician-assisted suicide that does not get talked about.

  1. State estate taxes.

Certain states have state estate taxes.  This tax varies from state to state and is in addition to the federal estate tax.  Of the four states that allow for physician-assisted suicide, three have state estate taxes: Oregon, Vermont and Washington.  This affects your estate because if your total estate size if over the state estate tax exemption amount, you will owe state estate tax.  Depending on the state, the state estate tax can be as high as 16%.  So for instances, you decided you want to move to Oregon to utilize the Death with Dignity statute.  Your total estate size is 1.5 million.  Based on Oregon state estate tax exemption of 1 million, you would pay state estate tax on the $500 thousand that is over the 1 million, thus decreasing what you can leave to your loved ones.

  1. Life Insurance and Accidental death policies

Life insurance policies and accidental death policy have restrictions; one of which is based on suicide.  Just like most things in life, each policy is different and will have different restrictions.  Therefore, you want to review your policies and talk with your agent as well.  In general, many policies have a one or two year restriction, where there would be no pay-out if the insured commits suicide.  So, if there is a physician-assisted suicide within one or two years from the date the life insurance policy went into effect, the life insurance company will not pay out.  However, depending on the state, the life insurance company may be required to pay back your premium.

So although most people are not really thinking about their estate when contemplating whether to use the Death with Dignity statute, you should be thinking about it.  So make sure to visit your estate-planning attorney to discuss how such a decision can affect your estate.

MHContributed by an MH Phoenix Estate Planning Attorney.

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This blog should be used for informational purposes only.  It does not create an attorney-client relationship with any reader and should not be construed as legal advice.  If you need legal advice, please contact an attorney in your community who can assess the specifics of your situation.


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