National Estate Planning Awareness Week (October 18-24, 2021) is a public campaign designed to help us understand why an estate plan is essential to our financial wellness. Surprisingly, only 32% of the US population currently has a will (Source: Caring.com). That’s down from 51% in 2005. Further, about 30-40% of us don’t know whether our parents have a will or what’s in our parents’ wills (Source: Brookdale Senior Living).
Why are people skipping estate planning? Some find the topic uncomfortable to think about or discuss. Or, they might mistakenly think that wills and trusts are only for the super wealthy. But if you have any assets (ex: home, vehicle, bank accounts) or have loved ones who depend on you, it’s a good idea to have an estate plan in place.
Essential Estate Planning Documents
As Estate Planning Awareness week aims to teach us, an estate plan can help protect you, your loved ones, and your life’s work. It can also memorialize your medical wishes and ensure you have trusted people in place to help with financial or legal decisions. There are three estate planning documents that our firm recommends that everyone should have:
Will or Trust.
A Last Will and Testament, also known as a Will, is one of the most common estate documents. It provides for the disposition of someone’s assets and personal property after their death. This legal document also enables a parent to designate a guardian for their minor children (children who are younger than 18-years-old). A Will does not carry any legal authority until the creator passes away, and an original version of the Will is filed in Probate Court.
Like a Will, a Trust also provides for how assets will be distributed at a person’s death. A Trust, however, has other advntages a Will does not have. A Trust can help families avoid the probate process, can allow a person to better control who handles their finances and how they are handled when they are incompetent or disabled and can protect assets for people needing long term care.
Durable Power of Attorney.
A Durable Power of Attorney is a legal document that enables someone to appoint a trusted person to help with their health, financial, real estate, and legal decisions. If an individual is injured, incapacitated, or disabled, the Power of Attorney can help make decisions when the appointee is otherwise unable to do so. The Power of Attorney is effective during the appointee’s lifetime, only. If someone is incapacitated and does not have a Power of Attorney in place or a proper Trust plan, the court will select a conservator for them.
Advance Directive for Health Care.
An Advance Health Care Directive, which includes a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care appointing a Health Care Proxy and a Living Will, allows someone to memorialize their wishes related to medical treatment and end-of-life care. A person can state their preferences regarding life support, or what treatment they’d want to be withheld if they’re in a terminal condition or permanently unconscious. An Advance Directive for Health Caare takes effect during a person’s lifetime, if they are unable to express their own wishes due to illness or incapacity or simply choose to allow another person, like a child, to make their medical decisions.
Things to Consider Before Your First Estate Planning Appointment
During your first meeting with an estate planning attorney, you may be asked some questions that you haven’t thought about before. So that your appointment is productive and you have a better idea of your financial goals, here are a few things to consider before your first consultation:
- Do you have any instructions about when or how much a beneficiary should inherit?
- Do you have any personal property that you’d like a specific friend or loved one to have?
- If you have real estate or business interests, is there someone other than your surviving spouse that you’d like to inherit those assets?
- Do you want to include your pet(s) in your estate plan?
- Do you plan on leaving any property or assets to charity?
- Who would you like to name as your Power of Attorney or Health Care Proxy?
- What medical wishes would you like to include in your Advance Directive?
- Who would you like to serve as a guardian for your children?
In addition to answering these questions, it’s also a good idea to gather some information prior to your first meeting with an estate planning attorney. Locate any property titles, previous estate documents, bank account information, retirement account information, contact information for your beneficiaries, and tax returns. Our firm sends a questionnaire that will help you gather the information necessary to have the most productive meeting possible.
Have Additional Questions? Contact Brian M. Douglas & Associates
Creating an estate plan may seem a little overwhelming, but one of the biggest mistakes you can make is not having a plan in place. Documents like a Will, Power of Attorney, and Advance Directive can help ensure that you and your loved ones are protected. If you’d like to schedule an estate planning consultation, please reach out to us at (770) 933-9009 or via our online contact page.