The holiday season is here and with it comes an excellent chance to talk with your loved ones about your estate plan – really! The holidays are often the time when family members scattered all over the country for most of the year come together in one place. In addition to catching up on the latest happenings, spreading good cheer and eating too many sweets, consider taking time to talk with your loved ones about estate planning you have done and instructions you have left. Read on more about the two most critical times for planning: during your life and after death (that’s a little estate planning humor).
1. Making important decisions in advance
People who do not plan for the possibility that they may suffer a period of incapacity during their lifetimes doom themselves to suffering in the public eye due to the need for a Probate Court proceeding appointing a guardian and/or conservator to provide oversight. Don’t let this happen, and try to avoid probate if you can. Create the legal documents you need to appoint the people you trust and want to make your health care decisions, pay your bills and manage your property or investments if it becomes necessary.
A Durable Power of Attorney is a legal document that designates one or more people to manage your financial matters. Select a trusted friend or family member with strong financial skills. A Health Care Proxy appoints people to make health care decisions for you if you are not able to do so for yourself. Choose people who will respect your wishes.
2. Planning for After Death – Wills
Wills are the basic estate plan document that determine who receives your assets on your death. Note your Will only controls the distribution of probate assets – assets owned in your individual name and that do not have a beneficiary designated to receive them. A Will does not determine how jointly owned assets and assets that have a named beneficiary (such as retirement plans and life insurance) pass. The Personal Representative you name manages your probate assets after your death. This person will identify and consolidate your assets, pay your debts and taxes and distribute assets as you direct in your Will.
Your Will also controls the distribution of your tangible property, i.e. the things loved ones often fight over. Reduce the likelihood of controversy by writing down your wishes about where this special stuff should go so your family knows what you want.
An experienced estate planning attorney can craft your Will. Give your loved ones a gift of peace this holiday season by creating your own estate plan if you do not have one or making sure your existing estate plan represents your intent. They will thank you from the bottom of their sugar-plum fairy hearts!
© 2018 Samuel, Sayward & Baler LLC