I know, I know.
I first learned about the value of an estate plan in my second-year trusts and estates class…seven years ago. I’ve been practicing law for almost five years. And despite recommending the importance of estate planning and drafting wills and powers of attorney for clients, friends and family, personally, I’ve been avoiding addressing this issue for some time.
I’ve been through all of the excuses:
The excuses are understandable – giving some serious thought as to what will happen if you die or are unable to make decisions for yourself is a tough subject to tackle, and isn’t fun to think about. I’d definitely rather write blog posts, go to the gym or watch Game of Thrones. But it’s part of becoming a responsible adult, and establishing an estate plan lets you take control of what happens rather than resorting to what your state’s legislature thinks should happen. Consulting with an estate planning attorney also will give direction to your loved ones as to what your wishes are, giving clarity in a stressful time and hopefully preventing conflicts that could arise in the absence of an estate plan.
Even though I don’t have much in the way of assets, what happens if I’m in an accident and unable to make decisions for myself? If you watch the news, you hear all the time about the terrible accidents that can happen. But what you don’t hear about are the difficulties behind the scenes for your family or friends that can be created by a non-existent or outdated estate plan, including issues with banking, insurance, bill payment, and health care decisions.
A financial power of attorney will let me choose who gets to make financial, insurance and business decisions on my behalf, and allows me to give that person directions as to what my wishes are.
Similarly, a durable health care power of attorney and living will allows me to appoint an agent to make health care decisions on my behalf, such as surgery, medication and treatment options. In the unfortunate event of an end-stage medical condition with no hope of recovery or meaningful life, I can make my wishes or instructions known as to whether to continue life-sustaining treatment or otherwise.
Finally, in the event that I pass away, a will determines what happens to my assets, if I have any specific bequests, and my wishes as to burial instructions. If I had children, I could include provisions for who would be the guardian of the child or a trust for the child’s benefit.
For all of the above reasons, I decided it’s time to stop making excuses and just get it done. If you don’t have an estate plan, it’s always a good time to think about getting one. If you have an estate plan, have you revisited it lately? A good time to think about revising the documents is either every three to five years, or upon the occurrence of a major life event, like marriage or the birth or adoption of a child.