The largest obstacle to effective estate planning is procrastination. Sitting down to prepare a Last Will and Testament is not at the top of anyone’s “this is a fun thing to do” list. Yet death, like taxes is a certainty.
Whether you tell yourself there is still time or “I do not have enough assets to have an estate worthy of planning,” the excuses likely run much deeper. Perhaps you are intimidated by the process, by the concept of facing mortality, or the fact that you really need to involve (and pay) an attorney to help you. Whatever the reason, even if you do not realize that there is a reason, the fact remains – you still need to do it and need to know how to do it right. Plan now to reduce or eliminate family disputes when you die.
Writing your Last Will is not just a set of decisions, but also a part of a larger comprehensive plan. As you think about what goes where, and to whom, you might come across other issues. The plan you create may not only affect you, your loved ones and your assets. In the big picture, estate planning can be much, much more. Not all planning is about how you leave your estate to your loved ones after you are gone.
For an ever-growing number of American families, disability is becoming a third inevitable issue to contend with along with death and taxes. Recording your wishes now can assure that the treatment you receive is the treatment you would want if contending with some extended illness or period of disability prior to death. Some of the most important planning concerns should include making sure your loved ones have the legal right to take care of you later in life. Consequently, there are some essential end-of-life documents you need to have in place to make this happen.
End-of-life planning has much to do with medical planning. Doctors can only do what you ask of them. But what if you cannot communicate your own wishes to them? What then?
Contrary to popular belief, your loved ones cannot automatically step in and make your medical care decisions for you. If you haven’t taken the time to give them the authority to act on your behalf, your family may be faced with the prospect of court proceedings to have a guardian appointed who can make decisions for you. This formal legal procedure adds extra expense, is time-consuming and exposes your personal circumstances and finances to the public record.
To avoid this situation, your planning should include an Advance Directive for Healthcare as well a Power of Attorney to provide authority for legal and financial matters. A living trust can also enhance your end of life planning as well as serving as a will substitute which can distribute the property in your estate while avoiding probate proceedings.
These legal documents need not be overly complicated, but they are important to have in place and at the ready. Whatever you do, do not put this planning on the back burner until it is too late! Be sure to engage competent and experienced legal counsel who has been there and done that.
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.