It’s that time of year again – love is in the air! As Valentine’s Day approaches, we make dinner reservations and shop for the perfect gift to express our love. This Valentine’s Day, consider giving a heartfelt gift—an estate plan to provide support and guidance for them during grief and loss. Whether your assets are large or small, giving your family the peace of mind of knowing your wishes in these difficult times is priceless.
You are likely thinking, “that doesn’t sound romantic or fun!” Cupid would not be interested. While an estate plan may not be something we wrap with a pretty bow or present in a heart-shaped box, taking the time to get your affairs in order is a perfect way to show your loved ones just how much much you care.
Take a moment to think about what would happen if you were disabled, incapacitated or if you died unexpectedly. Are you confident that your wishes would be honored? Does anyone know what your wishes are? Who will speak for you? Who will pay the bills if you are alive but incapacitated? Will your family waste money in a court battle for guardianship and conservatorship? Who will your care for your minor children – will they be cared for by the people you prefer or will a judge be left to choose the best candidate?
Thoughtful planning and several basic documents can provide a safe detour around many of these problems. A Healthcare Directive allows you to give a loved one the authority to speak with the doctors about treatment options and to formalize your treatment preferences should you become gravely ill. A Durable Financial Power of Attorney enables you to pick the person who will handle your financial and legal matters when you are unable to do so. You can designate your children’s guardian in a Last Will and Testament.
What about the distribution of your assets when you die? Do you and your spouse have step-children from prior marriages? Do you have a child that needs help managing money? A child with substance abuse issues? A child or grandchild with a disability or special needs?
The gifts you leave for loved ones can be protected from creditors and predators. These gifts can be insulated from future divorce and structured to ensure that disabled beneficiaries receive maximum advantage from your gift without losing government benefits. A Living Trust can also be structured to extend asset protection for you during your life and can be useful in preparing the family to handle the costs of long term care.
Whether your estate is large or small, planning ahead lets you control costs and take uncertainty out of the process for your family. Planning allows you to appoint the right person to handle your estate and to pay that person as much or as little as you think is right. You can make sure your possessions go to the right people—the people who will truly appreciate them. You have the ability to protect your loved ones from bad decisions, outside influences, creditors and divorcing spouses. You can even use trust planning to help your family avoid probate altogether. Most important, you lighten your family’s burden by reducing the number of stressful decisions they will face.
There’s no better way to show your love for your family than to craft a plan to ensure that you are taken care of in the event of disability and that they are taken care of in the event of your death. And you can leave a legacy that will last for many more Valentine’s Days to come!
James M. Miskell received his law degree from the University of Georgia in 1993. His Asset Protection, Estate Planning, and Elder Law practice has offices located in Lawrenceville and Johns Creek. He offers educational workshops and free consultations to assist clients as well as fellow professionals in creating individualized solutions. Visit his website: www.LetsTalkEstatePlanning.com. For more information, see his ad in this issue.