Be Cool! Get Tough and Tackle Estate Planning!

MP900387776The Times of Trenton says, in "Estate planning is important," the mere words "Estate Planning" can give many discomfort. But our ultimate decisions with regard to the future prove that estate planning is an act of love and kindness to those we trust with our affairs when we are incapacitated or after we're gone.

Basic estate planning requires the preparation of at least three documents that state your wishes under different potential circumstances: (i) decisions regarding medical treatment; (ii) decisions about legal and financial matters; and (iii) decisions for your "stuff" after you've passed away. Even though they're part of estate planning, two of these are needed while you're still alive: a General Durable Power of Attorney and Advance Medical Directive; the third is a will, which is used after your death.

Like it or not, there are things that need to be dealt with—either doing them ourselves in an organized fashion with compassion for our loved ones or leaving our affairs to chaos, stress, and disorder for those we leave behind. Folks deal with these matters in a few different ways:

  1. The ostrich position is burying your head in the sand and doing nothing;
  2. Others prepare the right documents, which they lose in a drawer or a box in the closet; and
  3. A third group will take the time to stop and consider the work required of their loved ones to step into their shoes.

These folks in Category Three not only express their wishes clearly, but also foster the courage to make really tough decisions. They're diligent about reviewing their estate planning documents frequently to ensure that they are up-to-date and to make changes along the way.

Let's see what might happen to families in each of three categories:

  1. The ostriches may think they just don't have an "estate;" however, that's pretty unlikely. If these ostriches don't have the proper legal documents, family members could be at each other's throats over who's going to be in charge. At the worst, they might end up in court and argue as to why they should be named to manage on behalf of the ostrich as Power of Attorney or as Administrator or Executor. This process saps everyone of time and energy when emotions are high. In addition, they can easily lead to misunderstandings and permanent splits among family members about who loved the ostrich more, who did the most for the ostrich, and who should get the ostriches' "stuff."
  2. The Old Buried Documents group can be complacent, and they may be as vulnerable, sometimes even more so, as the ostriches. That's because so many changes occur over time that will impact decisions: there are divorces and new children and grandchildren. Relationships and closeness with family members and friends change over time; people move away physically and emotionally. Also, the laws governing estate planning change—sometimes dramatically.
  3. The Cool Kids in Category Three not only prepare the right documents with the assistance of an estate planning attorney, but they revisit their documents regularly as part of their other types of annual checkups to make sure the wishes in the documents are still what they want and comply with today's laws. These Cool Kids make the tough choices and may even discuss those choices with family members. In addition to the documents mentioned above, the Cool Kids are smart enough to also leave important lists to save their loved ones guessing and digging, such as the following:
  • Estate Planning Attorney contact info;
  • Bank and investment brokerage account numbers;
  • Insurance account information; and
  • Specific personal items meant to be left to certain individuals.

Into which category do you belong to now? Want to move down to Cool Category Three? Talk with your estate planning attorney to get ready to make the jump and hang with the Cool Kids now.

Reference: The Times of Trenton (January 3, 2016) "Estate planning is important"

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