Estate Planning – Love, Power, and Money

Estate Planning is about caring for those you love

By Louise Paglen, Elder Law Attorney, The McIntosh Law Firm, Davidson, NC

Let’s talk about estate planning.  Does the topic make your uncomfortable because you think we will be talking about death, dying or incapacity? Relax, it’s really not as unpleasant as you imagine.  We are going to talk about love, power, and money.  Who is important to you? Who do you love? Who do you trust to manage your money? Who will make health care decisions for you if you are unable to make them for yourself?  Who do you care about and what do you care about?

Estate planning, at its core, is really about love. When we plan for our future, whether it is our potential incapacity or our inevitable death, we spend time thinking about who and what we love. Who is most important to me? Who will miss me most if I am not here to take care of them? Who will take care of my children or grandchildren if I am unable to do so? What will happen to my beloved and loyal pet? What will happen to the farm or the business that has been in our family for generations? Who will get grandma’s wedding ring? How do I provide a legacy gift for my church or favorite charity? How will people remember me? How can I make the pain and grief of an accident, prolonged illness or death just a little bit easier for the people who love me the most?

Estate planning is important because the people, pets, and charities we love, and who depend on us, are important to us. Whether we are preparing a will or a trust, discussing potential guardianship, or choosing the person who will make healthcare decisions for you if you are unable to do so, we are talking about the people you love. We talk about taking care of our loved ones, or the possibility that the people you love will be taking care of you.

Every estate plan should include at least four essential documents:  the Last Will and Testament, the Durable Power of Attorney, the Health Care Power of Attorney, and the Advance Directive for a Natural Death (“Living Will”).

  • The Last Will and Testament directs how your property and money will be distributed after your death.  It can also state your preferences for guardians for your minor children. The Last Will and Testament, although a legal document, might also be described as a love letter from the afterlife.
  • The Durable Power of Attorney appoints a person you trust to manage your legal and financial affairs if you are unable to handle those matters yourself – while you are still alive. The person you appoint is called your “Attorney-in-Fact” or “Agent “under the Power of Attorney.  It is extremely important that you choose an Agent who is financially responsible and trustworthy because the broad powers granted to your Agent can be abused if granted to the wrong person.
  • The Health Care Power of Attorney designates who will make health care and residential decisions for you if you are unable to make them for yourself. The person you trust for this position is called your Health Care Agent and is usually your spouse, adult child, close relative, or friend.
  • Th Advance Directive for a Natural Death (“Living Will”) shares with your loved ones your wishes regarding the provision of life prolonging measures such as artificial hydration and nutrition if you are at the end of your life. This document can help give your loved ones peace of mind when faced with such daunting decisions.

All four of the essential estate plan documents can be revoked or rewritten during your natural life as long as you have the capacity to make decisions about your family and property. So, as life circumstances change, your estate plan should be reviewed, revised and updated to reflect those changes.  We don’t incur the time and expense of estate planning for ourselves, we do it for those we love.

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