by J. Eric Kindberg, Attorney
Women are the Survivors.
Whether you ever marry or not, we all know that, statistically speaking, women outlive men. So Estate Planning really is all about you, about protecting yourself from the “takers” while you are alive, about making sure you don’t outlive your money, and about deciding how your legacy will be handled. Here are some issues to consider:
1.Protect Yourself Now
Mary Jane had a terrible headache when she woke up. Gradually she realized that she was in a bed, in a darkened room, with several strange noises nearby. Only when the nurse came in, did Mary finally realize that she was in a hospital bed. She didn’t remember how she had ended up there. Her thought was “Now what?”And it really doesn’t matter how Mary ended up in that bed. Young or old, rich or poor, auto accident, skiing accident, stroke, heart attack, the end result is that she is in that bed, and needs someone else to help make decisions for her. Maybe only for a day or so. Maybe for the rest of her life. Someone is going to make those decision. Right now, today, you get to pick the person to make those decisions for you. Once you are in that bed, it’s too late. You need your own set of “self protection” documents:
A. General Durable Power of Attorney. This lets you say who can make financial decisions for you if you are incapacitated or unable to make them. You pick the person to be your Agent (and a backup Agent, hopefully) who will be able to handle all of your financial decisions when you can’t.
B. Health Care Power of Attorney. This lets you say who can make health care decisions for you, who will be your Health Care Agent. Literally, someone who has the power of life and death over you.
C. Living Will. Do you want Medical Machines to keep you alive in your last days? Do you want to be hooked up to feeding or watering tubes? This is your chance to tell your Health Care Agent, in writing, what your wishes are.
2. Protect your Assets
A. Cash is Crucial. Develop a list of all your sources of income and how reliable those sources are. E.g., Social Security payments are very reliable, interest from bank accounts, not as reliable. Then you can develop a budget. But when it comes down to investing, there is a world of choices. This is where a good Financial Planner is helpful. Both in helping you invest your cash and managing your other assets to meet your needs.
B. Think about Long Term Care insurance. Long term care costs are in the range of $5,000 per month, or more. We all need to consider the likelihood that we might end up in a nursing home. We don’t necessarily have to buy long term care insurance, but should consider exactly how we would pay for it, or who would take care of us if we can’t otherwise pay for nursing home care.
3.Do You Need a Last Will, Revocable Trust, or More?
If you have a small estate, own property only in the State where you live, have competent, cooperative, adult beneficiaries, a Last Will may be sufficient. If your beneficiaries can wait 6 – 12 months for their inheritances, don’t mind the public disclosure of what they inherit, and don’t mind the costs and fees involved in probating the estate. If you own property in several States, are part of a blended family, have special needs or contentious beneficiaries, a Revocable Trust might be a better alternative. Other special situations may require different documents.
4.Get a Good Estate Planning Attorney
Your estate planning attorney will listen to you, and ask questions that help you figure out what you want to happen both Now and Later. Only then can the attorney prepare the documents that will implement your choices. The short list of issues given above is just the start of a much longer discussion you should have with your attorney. Usually, the answers to the first set of questions generate another set of questions. So, Start Talking.