There are five words you never want your doctor to say: “Get your affairs in order.”
But it happens. And unfortunately, 58 percent of Americans do not have a will or trust in place, and hearing those words is what eventually prompts them to start the estate planning process. If you don’t want to wait for a life altering health event to make your end-of-life plans, then it’s time to set up an appointment with your attorney and work through the documents below. Doing so now will make the circumstances easier for both you and your loved ones should health issues arise.
A living will or advance directive clearly communicates your personal wishes for any medical treatments you do or do not want, should you be incapacitated and not able to make the decision yourself. This document eases the burden on loved ones who may otherwise have to guess at your preferences. This document may contain “do not resuscitate” (DNR) or “do not intubate” (DNI) orders, or those directives may be contained in a separate standalone document.
Power of Attorney for Healthcare
A power of attorney for healthcare designates a person or persons to make healthcare decisions on your behalf when you are not able to. Discuss your views on medical treatments and life-saving measures with these individuals and any loved ones, so they fully understand the decisions you may be asking them to make.
Financial Power of Attorney
A financial power of attorney authorizes a named individual to carry out certain financial matters on your behalf. It’s important to mention here that your bank or investment institution may have their own separate, required forms. If so, you will need to complete this paperwork as well as the documents you complete with your attorney.
In the simplest terms, a will is a written statement directing how you want your assets handled when you die. An executor will need to be named and that person will execute, as the name implies, the wishes laid out in the will. Homes, cars, and financial accounts are some of the assets you will need to address within a will. But you should also be sure to account for digital assets like email, social media accounts, or online trading accounts and cryptocurrency. Some states allow for the inclusion of a personal property memorandum that lists your personal possessions and designates the recipients. One benefit of this memorandum is that you can update this document without having to return to your attorney to change your will.
A will can also name a guardian for your minor children. Without this document in place, a judge may determine who cares for your children after you pass. According to Caring.com, only 36 percent of parents with minor children have a will. This means 64% of parents are leaving their children’s fate up to a judge they have never met. Don’t let that happen to you or your child.
Keep in mind, a simple will does have to go through the probate process in court. That means a judge will oversee the process, and the details of your will become public information. This also takes time and legal expense for your family. While a simple will may be OK for some people, more robust estate planning documents are typically what we recommend.
A trust is a mechanism that allows you to pass assets to a beneficiary and avoid the probate process. It also allows for the management of your assets while you are incapacitated. This tool allows you to control who receives your assets as well as when your beneficiaries can access assets. A third party, known as a trustee, manages the assets on your behalf. For individuals with children, a portfolio of various assets or beneficiaries who they may not want inheriting large sums all at once, a trust is a better option and can provide a lot more peace of mind.
In addition to making sure you have the basic estate planning documents prepared, there are a few other steps you can take to ensure that your family’s future will be secure.
- Consider drafting a separate letter detailing any specific wishes for raising your children. This can allow you the opportunity to share the hopes and dreams that you have for your children and offer guidance about any assets that are left to them.
- Gather important documents. Distribute copies to trusted loved ones and your attorney. Important documents may include: your social security card, birth certificate, tax returns, insurance policies (life, health, car, home), bank accounts, mortgage agreement, car title, pension and retirement plans, property titles or deeds, will, trust, investment portfolios, advance directives, contact information for estate planning attorney and accountant, marriage certificate, and utility account information.
- Do not overlook planning for digital assets. Digital assets like email, Amazon, PayPal, social media accounts or a business website all have different policies on how they handle accounts after death.
- Consider making funeral or memorial plans ahead of time and accounting for the costs, since funerals can be expensive.
- Check beneficiaries on retirement plans and insurance policies. These assets have designated beneficiaries, and they are generally not transferred through a will or trust, so ensure your beneficiary designations accurately reflect your intentions.
Facing a chronic or terminal illness diagnosis is overwhelming. The attorneys at Davis Law Group can help you reclaim control by assisting you in carefully crafting an estate plan. These efforts will help to ensure that people follow your intentions and to lighten the load on your loved ones. If you’re ready to give yourself and your family more peace of mind, contact us today.