Estate Planning

How to ensure your wishes are carried out, and how to plan for "when I die" and "when I live"

The importance of making end-of-life preparations cannot be stressed enough. Many put off making these plans thinking there is always time. The sad reality is that none of us are guaranteed time. Others may be bothered by the thought of death itself and allow this to paralyze them when it comes to making plans and getting their affairs in order for the end of life. However, most of these same people have wishes and thoughts about where and to whom their assets are distributed. Many of them also have ideas about what they do and do not wish to have happen when their life ends. Lack of preparation and planning means that these wishes likely will not be honored. Also, it causes additional strain and stress on the people who are left to sort out the affairs.

Those who do consider planning, do so to address the question, “what happens when I die?” Keep in mind that it is also important to consider, “what happens if I live?” Proper planning ensures that if you have assets when you die they are passed on in the manner you wish. It does not, however, guarantee that there will be anything left. Your assets could be nearly or completely depleted by illness or a hospital/nursing home stay, leaving your loved ones with nothing. 

If you or your loved one have not made end-of-life preparations, make time to do so as quickly as possible. An elder law attorney can help guide you in what you should be doing, and can make sure the proper documents are in place to carry out your wishes regarding your health, care you want (or don’t want) to receive, and who should receive your money and possessions.

The first key document to be sure you have is a will or a living trust. A will allows you to specify where your money and possessions should go upon your passing. It also allows you to choose an executor of the estate. The executor will take care of managing the estate, paying debts, and distributing property as specified. A will only takes effect upon your death.

A living trust does everything a will can do but also allows for you to choose someone to manage your assets if you become incapacitated because it is effective during your lifetime. A living trust also provides privacy, as it is not subject to court proceedings that become open to the public like a will is. There are numerous other advantages to a living trust that can be explored with the help of an attorney.

A living will and health care power of attorney are two additional documents that take effect while you are alive. A living will specifies your wishes for end-of-life medical care. For example, you can specify whether you want to be kept alive by artificial means if you are in a terminal state. A health care power of attorney provides for someone to make health care decisions for you, in case you aren’t able to make decisions yourself. Both of these documents outline your wishes about medical treatment and care when you can’t make them for yourself, so it’s important to seek legal guidance to make sure these documents are drafted properly.

A financial power of attorney should be in the plan as well. A financial power of attorney names an agent to handle your finances in the event you are no longer able to.  An agent can open and close bank accounts, write checks, and sell the property if you choose to allow them the authority to do so. Like the health care power of attorney, the financial power of attorney should be created with legal advice to make sure your wishes regarding your finances are properly documented.

If you wish to have a say in what happens to you and your assets, an estate plan is necessary. This type of planning also helps those you leave behind to carry out your wishes without delay or discourse and to do so effectively.

If you have any questions about something you have read or would like additional information, please feel free to contact us.