May Is National Elder Law Month
Updated: May 13
May is National Elder Law Month and a great time to think about an estate plan. Have you or your loved ones prepared for what happens if you become disabled? Have you or your loved ones chosen who should take care of your affairs after you die? If you answered no to either of these questions, keep reading to learn more about where to start.
Preparing for disability and beyond before it happens can save your family needless stress, heartache, and expense. A comprehensive estate plan creates a protective blueprint for you, your assets, and your loved ones while you are alive and well, if you become disabled, and after death. These five documents will help protect not only your hard-earned assets, but also those relationships that are most important to you.
Health Care Power of Attorney
This document allows you to appoint someone to make healthcare decisions for you if you are unable to do so. By completing a durable power of attorney for healthcare, you make clear not only who should make your medical decisions, but also who should have access to your medical records if needed.
A living will expresses your wishes for medical treatment in circumstances where you cannot speak for yourself, especially in the case of terminal illness or the end stages of life. This document will give your loved ones peace of mind in knowing they are doing what you would have wanted instead of guessing.
A will is the document that provides instructions for distributing your assets to your beneficiaries upon your death. A will’s provisions can be customized to meet your specific needs by allowing you to designate the person who will handle the business side of death of paying final expenses and distributing your assets. If you have minor children, you can designate a guardian for them in your will. It is important to remember a will has to go through probate. Probate is the legal process where a court oversees the “business” of a person’s death, including things like paying debts and distributing assets.
Together with a trust, your will can reduce the potential for family fights over who is in charge or who gets what.
Revocable Living Trust
Wait! Don’t skip this section because you think a trust is only for ultra-wealthy families and “trust-fund kids.” A revocable living trust is a tool that allows you to retain full control over your assets while you’re alive and able to make decisions for yourself. If you can no longer make decisions for yourself, your revocable trust identifies who will take control of your assets, saving your loved ones a lot of stress and paperwork during that transition. Finally, upon your death, a trust can instruct how your assets get to your beneficiaries, providing a much easier and less expensive alternative to probate.
General Durable Power of Attorney
A general durable power of attorney fills in the gap for assets that are not appropriate to put in a trust, like an IRA and other non-medical issues like your personal bills. A general durable power of attorney allows you to choose who should manage your financial and other non-medical affairs if you are unable to. For example, if you get sick and someone else needs to make sure all your bills get paid, your agent would use a power of attorney to handle these issues for you.
These five documents, prepared with the help of an estate planning attorney, will bring you peace of mind in knowing that you are taking care of your family now and in the future. How you plan for the end of your life is part of your legacy. Completing a comprehensive estate plan is one of the most thoughtful gifts you can give.