Imagine for a moment, you have just gotten married and while enjoying dinner on your honeymoon, you mention the need to complete your estate documents. Your beautiful bride puts down her fork and very seriously asks you if you are dying. Shocked, you say absolutely not, but then realize why she would think something was wrong with you.
Now, you may need to imagine this, but to me, I can say I lived it. Yes, I did bring up completing estate documents on my honeymoon and yes, Katie was shocked. However, looking back, she and I laugh about it because at the moment, she thought estate documents were only for the end of one’s life, rather than throughout one’s life.
Before continuing, by estate documents, I mean a will, living will, medical power of attorney, financial power of attorney and if appropriate a trust. The definition of each is below:
- Will- a legal document created to provide instructions on how an individual’s property and custody of minor children, if any, should be handled after death.
- Living will- a written statement detailing a person’s desires regarding their medical treatment in circumstances in which they are no longer able to express informed consent, especially an advance directive.
- Medical power of attorney- a legal document that enables an agent (that has been selected by the individual) to make medical decisions on behalf of that individual if they become incapacitated.
- Financial power of attorney- a legal document that enables an agent (that has been selected by the individual) to make financial decisions on behalf of that individual.
- Trust- a legal document created during an individual’s lifetime where a designated person, the trustee, is given responsibility for managing that individual’s assets for the benefit of the grantor and eventual beneficiary. Typically, the individual creating the trust is named as a trustee with language that includes provisions for successor trustees later.
Over the years, we have heard publicly about various celebrities such as Barry White, Prince, Sonny Bono, Heath Ledger and many others who died without completing their estate documents. What we have not heard about is the everyday family member who has an unexpected health event and the family needs money to take care of them.
All too often, these individuals had no Financial Power of Attorney prepared that would allow a financial institution to honor the family’s request for funds. Thus, instead of providing a completed financial power of attorney to the financial institution, the family now must hire an attorney and proceed through the court system to get someone appointed as one’s attorney-in-fact. At a time of great stress, this process and delay is not something most people want to go through or want their family to have to go through.
While many of the estate documents do try and protect when there is a negative or life changing event, completed documents can also help during periods of happiness. Depending on the specifics of the documents, it can help families purchase or acquire assets when an opportunity arises. For example, we know people who purchased vehicles jointly with their spouse while one spouse was traveling because a financial power of attorney was created and maintained.
Through our advanced planning and regular progress meetings, we know many of you have completed your estate plans, however life changes. In order to attain the greatest benefits from estate planning, it’s a good idea to stay on top of your plan and revise it when appropriate—especially when new events occur that potentially affect your wealth. Additionally, your documents, most notably the financial power of attorney, can become stale meaning financial institutions will not accept it.
If I try to narrow down three reasons to think about your estate plan, they would be:
- Have an estate plan in place if you want a say in who can make medical and financial decisions for you when you are alive.
- Have an estate plan in place if you want a say in where your wealth goes after you are gone.
- Do not let your plan gather dust in a binder, folder or drawer (or in the cloud, for that matter). Make sure it is updated as your life changes.
The prior seven months has shown all of us how important our health is. Additionally, you may still have some time on your hands, time which could be used to complete or update your estate plan. If you have any questions or would like to speak more about your understanding of your current documents, please do not hesitate to call us.
Have a good weekend and stay safe and healthy.
Chris Zeches, CFP®