“In a world of diminishing mystery, the unknown persists.”
Every few weeks, I take a moment to reflect on the deeper meaning of my work. I do this to check in with myself and to realign my firm's mission with the needs of my clients. Whenever I do so, I think of the unknown. As an estate planning attorney, I spend time with families as they contemplate the future. The future, as we know all too well, is uncertain. Does that mean we should live in fear? Of course not. But does it mean that we need to take steps to ensure we are prepared for the unknown? Absolutely.
If You Don't Yet Have an Estate Plan, Do These Three Things to Protect Your Loved Ones
Write a Will.
Pretty much everyone has heard of a Will and has a basic idea of what it does. Sure, it's the document that tells the Court who you want to get your stuff. However, a Will does a lot more than just distribute your worldly possessions. It actually acts as the blueprint for everything that will happen in the weeks, months, and years after you pass. If your Will is not designed to do what you think it will, things can get out of hand.
A Will serves three very important functions. First, it names an Executor of your Estate. What does this mean? An Executor is the person (or entity) who will be responsible for overseeing all of your affairs after you pass. The Executor is the person with the power to request your death certificate, pay off your debts, wrap up any loose ends, and then distribute your assets to those you choose. Basically, an Executor needs to be someone organized, trustworthy, and committed to seeing things through.
The second important function that a Will serves is to name guardians for any minor children you have. If you care for adults who have special needs, guardianship can be designated here as well. If you fail to use your Will to name chosen guardians for those in your care, a Court will make those decisions for you. I have seen it happen time and again, parents who fail to select a guardian in their Wills set their loved ones up for conflict, uncertainty, and pain.
Finally, a Will does actually name who will receive assets from your Estate and in what amounts. If you choose to do so, you can also include a specific list of “who gets what” among your physical possessions. It may seem like this function of the Will is really only important to people who have millions of dollars in the bank. In fact, the exact opposite is true. First of all, people with more substantial assets and multiple real estate properties will likely need a more comprehensive estate plan, such as a trust, to manage distribution of the Estate. Secondly, those of more means can afford to lose more in the probate process. The less you have to pass on to your loved ones, the more important it is that you have a clearly-communicated and legally-enforceable plan in place to smooth the process and ensure that your loved ones receive financial support as soon as possible.
Make Your Medical Wishes Known.
Although many people do not realize it, there is actually far more to a comprehensive estate plan than just a Will. An estate plan can actually be important even before you die. As we see time and again in the news and in our own lives, absolutely anything can happen. Unexpected death, illness, or injury can come along at any time. If you find yourself in need of medical care, it is important that you have an Advance Medical Directive in place to communicate your wishes to your healthcare professionals. An Advance Medical Directive can include your wishes about what kind of medical treatment you do and do not consent to receive, as well as name a Healthcare Proxy who can make medical decisions on your behalf. It can also include a Living Will, which designates your end-of-life preferences. Finally, you will want to include HIPAA Authorizations as a part of your Advance Medical Directive. These essential documents allow you to authorize certain individuals to speak with your medical staff to receive information and updates about your condition. Without an Advance Medical Directive, any and all decisions will be left to medical staff, not to your loved ones. Family members or trusted friends would need to go to Court to get authorized to make decisions on your behalf. Trust me, in the middle of a healthcare emergency, meeting with a judge is not ideal.
Plan for Financial Stability.
Finally, I believe no comprehensive estate plan is complete without a Power of Attorney. Powers of Attorney are legal documents that allow you to name individuals or entities to step in and take financial actions on your behalf, if and when you are unable to do so. Powers of Attorney are particularly important if, due to illness or injury, you are unable to take care of day-to-day affairs such as paying bills, signing contracts, and conducting business. In these cases, your designated representative can step in and make sure things get done without massive disruption.
The Future Is Not Guaranteed
The future is not guaranteed. We never know what lies ahead for us. And so, all we can do is make the most of the moments we have. Yes, that means making time to be with loved ones, to share with them, and learn from them. But it also means planning for that unknown future as best we can. None of us knows exactly what lies ahead, but we do have the tools to minimize suffering for our loved ones. We can take steps to ease their burden.
If you are ready to take the first three steps toward protecting your loved ones and planning for the future, give The Tyra Law Firm a call. We are here to help.