By ANGEL KANE
1. What Documents Do You Need for Proper Estate Planning?
When a client meets with me about Estate Planning, after some discussion, I usually find that in order to take care of their future needs and desires they will need a Last Will & Testament, a Financial Power of Attorney, a Health Care Power of Attorney and a Living Will. These are the documents that I personally have. These are also the Estate Planning documents I have prepared for numerous friends and family members. They are simple documents that don’t have to cost a lot of money but can properly take care of all your future needs.
Do you need a Trust? Do you need a complicated and expensive Will?
Usually not, but it all depends on the value of your estate and certain tax planning aspects of your particular financial situation. However, for most families, the aforementioned documents take care of all their needs and insure when they become ill or pass away, their estates are properly handled.
A Last Will & Testament is a legal document we all need. In the state of Tennessee, if you don’t have a Will, the law establishes who will receive your estate. And you may not like who gets everything you’ve worked so hard to accumulate. Take charge of who gets what, when and under what circumstances in your Last Will & Testament.
A Durable (Financial) Power of Attorney is a much needed document. Usually, if you are married, your spouse will be able to handle your financial affairs when you can’t. However, if your spouse can’t do it, then who will? You can determine who that person will be by having a Durable Power of Attorney prepared.
Of the utmost importance is your Health Care Power of Attorney. Who is able to make health care decisions on your behalf? Who do you trust to make the right decisions? You can decide that today by having a Health Care Power of Attorney prepared.
And finally, everyone needs a Living Will. Each of us has our own ideas about how we want to live and die during the end-stages of life. Make those decisions now, in legal documents that your doctor and family will be required to abide by.
Estate Planning does not have to be complicated or expensive. However, by not taking care of these legal matters on the front end, you can often cause your family to spend much more money later, trying to take care of these matters for you.
For instance, a simple Health Care Power of Attorney can cost $100.00. However, should you fail to have this document prepared and then require medical care that you can not consent to, your family will be forced to hire an attorney to file a Petition for Conservatorship. The Court will require a hearing to determine who can make health care decisions for you. Affidavits from doctors will be required and often a Guardian Ad Litem will also be appointed. Your family will end up spending more money than was ever necessary had you simply appointed your Health Care Power of Attorney, in a legal document, years before.
As another example, I recently handled a case where a single-mother prepared a Last Will & Testament and named non-family members to be the Guardian of her children. In this case, the birth father was not in the picture. The young mother suddenly died and there was a contest over who should be the children’s Guardian. The mother had taken great pains to find another couple who might take care of her children and raise them, the way she herself would raise them, and had named this couple in her Will. She and her children were very close to this other family. Her biological family however, with whom she was estranged, wanted the children to live with them in another state. The Court, after a hearing, followed the Mother’s wishes as set out in her Last Will & Testament. Without the Will, the children, more than likely would have been made to move with the mother’s biological family.