Protect your loved ones and ensure that your wishes are followed. Make sure that your estate plan contains your current will, establishes your Power of Attorney, and contains your current Health Care Directive today.
Why is this so important? An estate plan? A will? The recession was painful for many people. The recovery is still lukewarm. Millions filed bankruptcy or at least thought about it. I understand the situation all too well. While eking out a living, hoping to achieve financial recovery, who has time to worry about a will?
Aren’t Wills Just For Wealthy People?
Modern wills are important for people in all walks of life, especially with advances in modern medicine. Without proper estate planning, you could be kept alive in a state you don’t want to endure; kept in that state because you are unable to speak up and say, “I’ve had enough! Let me go!” Your assets could be distributed according to the decisions of total strangers, or be subject to taxation that leaves less than you hoped for your loved ones. Your burial wishes might not be known. The list of unintended consequences goes on.
While these issues are not the most pleasant to consider, they are very important, especially as we get older, if we have complicated estates to distribute, or if we have explicit wishes for property distribution to family members, charities, and other recipients. You can address these concerns with my expert help by either updating or creating your will. The average tax refund is more than enough to settle these questions and gain peace of mind.
Failure to Plan Is a Plan for Failure
Let’s meet Mr. No-Worries. He has six reasons why hiring a lawyer to make a will is a waste of time.
- Mr. No-Worries doesn’t care too much about his credit score crashing way down to 400 during his rehabilitation from a stroke, pneumonia or accident. He hasn’t documented his authorization to access his accounts for payment of his bills.
- Mr. No-Worries really wants to live as a human vegetable on life-support for as long as possible. He always wanted to set a Guinness world record for something.
- Mr. No-Worries has no worries that his beloved pet might be turned over to the pet shelter for euthanasia after he’s gone or unable to care for his pet while he cannot make decisions for himself. He is sure someone will step up and pay for all of his pet’s medical needs and food. He blissfully makes no provision for the pet’s care.
- Mr. No-Worries doesn’t care about who looks after his minor children or how they are to be raised in the event of his serious illness or passing. He thinks that state employees will make perfectly fine decisions about his kids.
- Mr. No-Worries does not care that his surviving spouse or surviving relatives might have to spend $10,000 unnecessarily in the legal system in order to square away his affairs if he is severely disabled or should he pass away.
- Mr. No-Worries always wanted to bring his friends and family closer together, even if it means that they’ll gather to fight over his personal property after he’s gone.
As you can see, Mr. No-Worries actually has left a mess for others to worry about on top of their grief after he passes on.
As for the rest of us, those of us who don’t want to inflict even more pain on our loved ones after we’re gone, I want to help you. I enjoy working on basic estate planning for regular folks. I do not work on estate plans for millionaires.
Bankruptcy and Estate Planning Are Quite Similar
By using the information about assets and income obtained through a short interview with you, I can easily develop or revise an estate plan for you that is easy to understand. I am happy to do so as part of a bankruptcy or divorce case we may work on together, or because you want an estate plan prepared with my expert assistance.
Laughing at Mr. No-Worries’ no-will “reasoning” is easy. For the friends and relatives stuck with the problems left behind by Mr. No-Worries’ lack of a legally documented estate plan, it won’t be very funny.
What Does an “Estate Plan” Consist Of These Days?
A simple estate plan includes four basic parts:
- A readable and understandable will and/or trust,
- Powers of attorney,
- Health care directives and
- Certain “other” documents.
A will or trust is the basic document that says who gets what of your property when you die, and who you want to have authority to gather and distribute any money or property for distribution. It discusses that the person doing all the work in settling your affairs can be fairly compensated for managing the distribution, and in the rare cases when a probate is necessary, it streamlines that process as well. If you have a trust, you also have short wills that “fund” or “pour-over” into the trust. This sounds more complex than it actually is; trusts are more basic than you might realize.
A power of attorney document authorizes someone to make health care and financial decisions for you if you cannot make them yourself, and it can often help avoid the expense of a guardianship proceeding for an incapacitated person.
A health care directive provides direction to physicians about how they should treat you if you should fall into a “persistent vegetative state”. That is, if you have no measurable brain activity according to medical and legal standards. You decide whether to pull the plug, or that the doctor should help you soldier on despite long odds for your recovery. A health care directive lets you make the call instead of burdening emotionally distraught relatives, or leaving the decision to the state, eliminating questions about what you really wanted done.
“Other” documents are perhaps the most important, and are related to the will and/or trust documents.
These “other” documents can specify who is to care for your pets, and who you want to care for any minor children you have. These documents may also include what is called a ”holographic will” in which you specify how your personal property should be distributed to people you want to receive the items in order to avoid family fights over your possessions.
“Other” documents might also contain your directives on your burial or cremation as well as any ceremonies in your honor. This can sometimes be the most important part of your estate plan as you ease loved ones through their grief. Agonizing decisions about whether to buy an expensive casket, headstone, or ceremony can be avoided, relieving your loved ones of that burden. If you change your mind, changing the “other” documents is easy—we will show you how!
Falling ill or dying can leave a big mess for everyone else in your life if you don’t have these basic legal documents prepared and ready to help your survivors to follow your wishes.
But I’m Not a Wealthy Person
Even if you are not financially well off, you should still have a set of basic legal documents in place in case you pass on or become very ill, particularly if you are married or have dependents.
Ironically, those with the least wealth are often best served by having these documents in place. While a wealthy estate has enough money for heirs even if a legal dispute arises, a small estate doesn’t leave much margin for error if legal costs or decision made based on emotional distress consume the resources you intended to pass on.
Most of us find reasons to delay or avoid facing the mortality of falling ill or dying. This is understandable. I’m writing this in part because of a recent illness and death of a close personal relative. I was reminded of my own mortality, and I soon started reviewing and revising my own estate plan.
Never Put Off [to] Tomorrow What You Can Do Today
Please take Thomas Jefferson’s sage advice, and join me in keeping a resolution to make sure that you have an estate plan in place that reflects your current wishes. Creating your will and estate plan is a part of life, and is easier than you think. Please contact us to set up a free 30 minute consultation.