It is never too early to begin talking about Estate Planning. This is one of those tasks many people put off, sometimes with devastating effects. It is also a key part of anyone’s financial plan no matter what your income or assets may be. Estate Planning helps you prepare the tasks needed to help manage your individual asset base when you become incapacitated or die allowing you the control of your assets long before the need arises. It helps put you in the driver’s seat of controlling where your assets will be dispersed.
Last Will and Testament
Benjamin Franklin once said the only certain things in this life are death and taxes. When we become adults and start our own families, we need to think about what will happen to our children when we are gone. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that any of us will be here tomorrow. Estate planning is essential for new families to provide guidance to those who are left behind with regard to the care and custody of their children as well as any assets they may have. In addition to young families, older people also need to make sure that their estate planning is in place. It is your opportunity to leave instructions to your loved ones after you have passed. For example, you may have specific gifts that you would like to make of your assets after you have left this world. Perhaps you want your diamond ring to go to your daughter or your train collection to go to your grandson. However you want your assets distributed after you have passed from this life, creating a will gives you that opportunity to gift your assets to whomever you choose.
Note: Massachusetts does not recognize holographic or written wills unless certain criteria are met. I have assisted a family recently where the deceased had left a written will but it did not meet those criteria and therefore was not recognized as a last will and testament by the court. In turn, to ensure that your wishes are honored after your death it is essential that you obtain the assistance of an experienced estate planning attorney.
Durable Power of Attorney
One of the estate planning documents we recommend is a durable power of attorney. This document is effective immediately upon signing. It gives your attorney-in-fact, the person you appoint as your power of attorney, the power to take care of your financial affairs in the event that you cannot. Life typically presents many obstacles that may come in the form of someone becoming incompetent, hospitalized or even in a coma, situations where the person cannot legally sign anything on their behalf. Having appointed an attorney-in-fact, that person can then sign on behalf of the incapacitated person who can no longer sign for themselves.
The next document we recommend is the healthcare proxy. This is a document where you appoint an individual to make healthcare decisions on your behalf when you are no longer able to do so. You can also appoint alternate people in the event that your original healthcare agent cannot make those decisions for you. Our healthcare proxy includes language that states you do NOT wish to be kept alive by extraordinary means if there is no possibility of recovery. It also lets you determine if you want medication to keep you comfortable even if giving you that medication to keep you pain-free might hasten your death. These are difficult topics to discuss but it is important to have an experienced attorney to guide you through the process. Once your documents are completed, you will have the peace of mind of knowing that your decisions will be honored and protected. We also tell families that it is important to state your wishes in the event you are in that situation where there is no opportunity for your recovery. I had a client once tell me that she wanted to be kept alive at all costs so that if the future doctors found a way to cure her she could be there for her family. In my experience, most people do not want to be kept alive if there is no chance for their recovery. Either way, we can put the instructions you want in the document itself so that when you no longer voice your wants and needs, the document will speak for you.