Recently, I blogged about why having a Will is part of being a good parent. A Will, of course, only becomes effective when you are dead. What happens if you are incapacitated but remain alive? This week, I’m discussing all those other estate planning documents necessary to have a complete estate plan. These documents include a General Durable Power of Attorney, a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care Decisions, a Health Care Directive (sometimes called a Living Will), and Memorial Instructions.
- You need to designate someone to care for your kids if you are incapacitated. What? You haven’t thought about it? Or talked about it with your partner? Discuss. If you and yourpartner are unable to provide care for your kids, it is important that you have designated someone to assume this important role in your children’s lives. Of course, you plan to be there for them for a long, long time – but sometimes surprises aren’t always happy news. Both your Will and General Durable Power of Attorney should nominate someone to serve as your children’s guardian, provide care for your children, and make medical decisions on your children’s behalf, should you and your partner be unable to provide care.
- A General Durable Power of Attorney is an important – and powerful – document. Have one and understand what it does. A General Durable Power of Attorney designates a person (your attorney-in-fact) with authority to handle your financial transactions in your place and designates a temporary caregiver or guardian for your children, among other duties, should you remain alive but unable to undertake these tasks on your own.
- Review and update your beneficiary designations. Just do this. Seriously. Life insurance, retirement accounts, bank accounts, and even investment accounts can be transferred directly to your loved ones without probate after you die when you designate beneficiaries on these accounts. This means your designated beneficiaries will have access to these assets immediately upon your demise. It also means your beneficiary designations are an important piece of your estate plan. When did you last review your beneficiary designations? Not all assets are governed by a Will. Some types of assets automatically pass from the owner to a designated beneficiary when the owner dies. These are known as “nonprobate assets,” a term that refers to anything that passes via beneficiary designation outside a will. Some common types of nonprobate assets include (but are not limited to) retirement accounts, property interests held in joint tenancy with right of survivorship, joint bank accounts with right of survivorship, and payable on death accounts. For many people, these nonprobate assets might make up the lion’s share of their estates.
- Health Care Directives and Durable Powers of Attorney for Health Care are simple but powerful. Nobody plans to get sick, or in an accident. But, when a calamity hits, these are important documents to have available for your medical provider. A Health Care Directive, or Living Will, is a document that only comes into play if you are diagnosed with a terminal or permanent unconscious condition. It allows you to direct your medical providers that you do not wish to have artificial hydration and nutrition provided to you if multiple doctors concur any life-sustaining treatment would only prolong the process of dying. The Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care designates someone to act as your attorney-in-fact for health care decisions, should you be unable to make those decisions on your own in a medical crisis.
- Memorial instructions can be fun. I’m not saying you need to put the “fun” in funeral, but lots of folks do find the exercise of thinking about how they want their loved ones to remember their lives to be more fun than they expected. Memorial instructions are an important document for informing your loved ones of what you want to happen to your earthly remains once you are done with them. This document authorizes who will be in charge of your remains, and gives that person the authority to carry out your wishes, whether those wishes include cremation, burial, or donation to science. It also allows you to indicate your preferences for how you’d like them to handle any memorial.
- You should have a plan for who will care for Fido and Fluffy. A General Durable Power of Attorney, in addition to a Will, may also include provisions designating a caregiver for your pets. You can also establish a Pet Trust in your Will. Stacey and her cat, Roger, made a fantastic video discussing Estate Planning for Pets.
- You have time for this. We get that having kids keeps you busy. And, especially if you are a new parent, I know that you are probably not sleeping as much as you’d prefer, and for less fun reasons than may have led you to experience 4am in the past. Making an estate plan means discussing unpleasant scenarios with your partner and thinking about your own mortality more than you’d like. That said, once folks get started, they generally find a sense of relief in having taken the time to make these important decisions and having these documents tucked away should a crisis occur. Having the estate plan done means one less thing to worry about. Ready to get started? We’re always happy to discuss estate planning needs with parents.
This post is for informational purposes and does not contain or convey legal advice. The information herein should not be used or relied upon in regard to any particular facts or circumstances without first consulting with an attorney.