We all know we’re going to die someday. We may hope that it happens many years in the future, but we accept that it’s a fact of life. However, even if we accept the reality of our eventual death, that doesn’t mean we take steps to prepare for it. And many of us can’t face the possibility that we could become incapacitated—either physically or mentally—well before we die. When our legal team meets with estate planning clients of all ages, we guide them through the important decisions that need to be made to prepare for three life stages: incapacity, death, and Probate.
Incapacity Planning Helps You and Your Loved Ones
While we tend to think of incapacity as what happens to the elderly, an accident or illness could render a person of any age incapable of making decisions and conducting business for themselves. It could be temporary, such as a coma after a car crash, or permanent, in the case of dementia or a stroke. Either way, when you have certain documents in place, you can rest assured that your financial matters and healthcare decisions will be managed on your behalf. These essential documents include:
- Healthcare Power of Attorney
- Financial or Durable Power of Attorney
- Advance directive
- HIPAA authorization
If you do not have these documents in place when you become incapacitated, the court will have to intervene and make decisions on your behalf. It is never too soon to choose trusted people to represent your interests if you should become incapacitated.
You Need More Than a Simple Will to Prepare Your Family for Your Death
When the inevitable happens, and you pass away, the last thing you want is to leave a mess behind for your family. Yes, a Last Will and Testament is important to have, and it’s especially important that it is updated whenever you experience a major life change, such as divorce, children growing up, selling a house, coming into assets or property, and retiring. You want to make sure that the document accurately reflects your current wishes, not what you wanted 15 years ago when you wrote it.
It is also a good idea to put down in writing what you want for a funeral or memorial service, whether you want to be buried or cremated, who you want to care for your pets, and any other decisions you don’t want your family to have to agonize over. Documents you should consider having include:
- Last Will and Testament
- Designation of Burial Agent
- Instructions for your funeral
- List of people to contact about your passing
Make sure you have a safe and accessible place to store these important documents and that someone knows where they can be found.
Simplifying the Probate Process for Your Family
If you leave behind an explanation of your wishes and an updated will, you might think you have made things easy for your family and that they will be free to mourn you, collect their inheritance, and move on in due time. However, there may be one more key estate planning tool you need before you can truly be at peace. After your death, your estate will have to go through Probate before your assets can be distributed to your heirs. This can be a costly and time-consuming process, but there are ways to protect most of your assets from Probate. When you meet with our probate attorneys, we will explain the benefits of a revocable living trust, payable-on-death bank accounts, updated life insurance and retirement plan beneficiaries, and more. These strategies will ensure that your assets pass directly to your designated heirs without going through Probate.