Everyone needs an estate plan. I don’t care how old you are, how young you are, how rich or how poor you are. You need to protect yourself and your family. Do you want your family to be on the news like Terry Schiavo? Without some form of protection, decisions made after you’re gone or incapacitated can tear families apart.
Each of the following documents protect you in some form or another. Each one can be as equally as important. You do not have to have $10 million to find value in a couple pieces of paper. Ask yourself this, “what happens when I die or become incapacitated?” Where do your children go? Who decides whether you should remain on life support or not? Who gets the house or that prized base ball collection? Do you want your private life made public by the state?
Lets examine the 3 must haves:
Last Will and Testament
A last will and testament is a document that directs where you want your assets to go and who gets to oversee the disposition of assets. A will can be as simple as a “I leave everything to so and so” to as complex as setting up various trusts.
Wills help you avoid making your private life public. If you die without a will, you are considered intestate. This means that the things you own or control at the time of death are examined and distributed by the probate court. Which also means that everything you own is made public for the world to see. There are those out there who will prey on people who just inherited a lot of money. They just look up the latest probate cases. Lets me also mention that probate court can be expensive and time consuming.< Do you want your heirs fighting over who gets what? I’ve seen it destroy families.
A living will is a will that you use when you are living. Simple enough, right? The living will issues orders to doctors or caregivers in the event that you become incapacitated. For example, you get in a car accident and go into a coma. Now, what if you’re brain dead? Doctors have an obligation to keep you alive, do you want to live and suffer or die quickly?
The living will details specifically what doctors should do in a situation like this. Instead of letting your family quarrel over whether or not you should live, you made the decision already. It is a touchy subject, especially asking yourself if you want to live or die, but it is necessary.
Health Care Power of Attorney
The HCPOA for short appoints someone to make decisions for you in the event that you become incapacitated. This person can decide the level of health care as well as, depending on the provisions, take care of your obligations such as bills. The person you appoint can make the decision whether you should live or die based on what you have in your living will or have said in the past. If Terry Schiavo’s husband had a HCPOA, he could have stopped all that legal fiasco, he would have had the power to remove her feeding tube.
There you have 3 simple documents that will protect you and your family. There are a lot of issues to consider when developing your estate plan, there are a lot of hard questions that must be answered. In the end, do you want to control your fate, or do you want the state or doctors decide it for you?