Estate planning often conjures up all kinds of images. Some believe there’s no need to think about such things because they don’t reside in a mansion sitting upon acres in the English countryside. They don’t vacation on yachts or have massive holdings in all kinds of stocks and bonds. Just because we don’t have those kinds of assets however, doesn’t mean we don’t have an estate and a need for estate planning. Here are some quick basics to help you understand what’s necessary as well as at least one *ACTION ITEM (something we will now include in future posts) to get you started.
First, an estate plan is more than just planning for one’s estate. It is an umbrella term that covers the tools that will facilitate the arrangement of how one’s wishes, regarding their accumulated assets, their personal being and the protection of minor children are to be legally managed in the event of incapacitation or death. In short, how do you want to protect your property, AND your people AND your person if you are unable to do so, AND do you want to choose who does it in your place? If so, who?
In a future blog, Corey or I will go over the means (will, trust, etc.) that can be used to execute all your wishes for all parts of your plan. There’s one part of your plan however, that really can’t wait. It can be done pretty quickly and doesn’t require any attorney assistance. It is the part of your plan that deals with YOU – your person.
This part of an estate plan includes important legal directives.
A medical care directive, also known as a living will, spells out your wishes for medical care if you become unable to make those decisions yourself.
A medical power of attorney is a trusted person that you’ve given authority to make decisions for your health care, if you can't. These two documents are sometimes combined into one, known as an advance health care directive.
Have a second trusted person in mind in case your POA primary choice is unavailable when needed. It’s crucial to note that the power of attorney authority ends at the death of the one they are acting in behalf of.
If you are over 18, NO ONE will have access to your medical files or have any legal rights to make decisions on your behalf, unless you say so. Judges and courts are expensive and messy, please be kind to your loved ones and make those decisions yourself then get them legally notarized. Any local doctor’s office or hospital has advanced directive forms. Once filled out, the signatures of any notary and witness will be sufficiently legal to avoid a lot of confusion and drama. All states recognize notarized documents in case you move. As with all legal decisions that require another’s involvement and/or participation, have a discussion and get their thoughts and permission. Let all that might be affected by these choices know your wishes by either some kind of meeting or a letter of intent (something in your own words so others don’t have to rely on interpreting formal gobbeldy-gook…er…legal terms).
Again, one does not need to live on Downton Abbey or in a high-rise in Dubai to need an estate plan. You also don’t need ridiculous amounts of time to get this task accomplished. There are several ways to plan and legalize your affairs. Until then, do the kind, responsible thing and get these particular and necessary directive documents in order as soon as it is feasible to do so. The peace and relief you will experience when that’s accomplished will help you understand what true wealth really is.
TOMORROW * Carefully read through and complete all pages of the Advanced Directive forms (This can be tricky. Put on calming music. Meditate beforehand. Have a glass of wine/diet coke with lime and coconut/warm milk/chamomile tea. It’s ok. It’s really important. Just do it.) * Make an appointment with a notary – don’t cancel it.
BEFORE YOUR NOTARY APPOINTMENT * Contact and get permission from your chosen trusted health care representative. Make sure they can go to the notary with you. They need to sign in front of the notary too. * Have forms filled out. * Have a file/binder ready and in place for the signed documents
AFTER NOTARY APPOINTMENT * Place signed, witnessed, notarized, legal and finished advanced directive forms in their appropriate assigned designation * Let health care representative know where and how to access forms * Give a copy of forms to your physician and/or chosen hospital * Eat some very good chocolate/take a nap/buy some shoes/celebrate! Well done, you!
Corey and Katie entered widowhood in 2016 after losing spouses to cancer. They met and connected in a widow/widower support group and later married. One of the principles they learned from their own experiences and those of other surviving spouses is that the more prepared a surviving spouse is on a financial, legal, emotional, and practical level, the better they will adjust to widowhood. They will maintain their independence and control of their assets and be freer to properly grieve and move forward in life. Conversely, those who are not prepared are more likely to have their lives flipped upside down. They may need to move and uproot kids because they can't afford the mortgage, rely on family or other charities to financially support them, and/or change jobs to allow them to better serve as a single parent. We hope to share what we've learned and help other families properly get their affairs in order and be prepared with confidence, peace of mind, and in control of their assets.