August is “Make A Will” month. Below is some Food for Thought!
As holistic financial advisors, we work hard to make sure that out clients have their “Financial House” in order. The most frequent issue we discover is that our clients haven’t put together what we call the ‘four legged stool” of good estate planning. The potential for chaos is tremendous if you have not created these documents! My goal in writing this piece is to reduce your fear of having these conversations, and help start you on the path to mindfully and intentionally designing your end of life plan.
Without the first leg of the stool, nobody will talk to your heirs about your money, even if you are incapacitated. Without the second leg, your medical team has no one to turn to for a final decision on your care, and may do things that you do not want them to. Without the third one you may not be in control of how you pass away, and what steps are taken to keep you alive. And lastly, with no Will, you forego the ability to call the shots on your inheritance(s) and/or put your minor children in the home of someone you would not prefer! In fact, if you pass away without a Will, things can get very messy indeed! Take steps NOW to get these documents done!
Leg #1: The Durable Power of Attorney
Enables someone you designate to manage your money for you
This is a general power of attorney which remains in effect even if you become disabled or incompetent. This kind of power of attorney is recommended when trying to plan ahead for situations which would make it impossible for you to manage your own affairs. Without this power of attorney another cannot act for you including a spouse.
Leg #2: The Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care
Enables someone you designate to manage your health care decisions for you
This document lets you name a “health care representative,” such as a family member or friend, to make health care decisions on your behalf. Another name for this document is “Proxy Directive.” (Often combined with Living Will document) Make sure to review this document regularly, and if you have an old one (especially if it was drafted before 1996, when HIPAA went into effect), make sure to review it so it includes the HIPAA language – your attorney can help with this.
Leg #3: The “Living Will”
What steps should be taken to keep you alive?
This document lets you offer advanced instructions regarding what kind of medical treatments you would like to accept or reject depending on your condition in certain situations. Another name for this document is an “Instruction Directive.” These are some of the hardest conversations we have with our clients, as thinking through this document requires you to confront terms like ‘persistent vegetative state’ and other scarier terms that we’ve all seen in the news. The point of this document is to relieve your loved ones of the burden of making these calls, by making them yourself, before you have to.
Leg #4: The Last Will and Testament
Who gets what when you’re no longer with us?
This is the document which sets down all of your final wishes regarding the disposition of your property. It also can include important tax and cost saving provisions. A letter of instruction can accompany the Will to clarify some of the intentions specified in the Will. We’re happy to work as part of your team to discuss your goals and objectives with your attorney, and run estate planning simulations that can illustrate the impacts of various strategies to your heirs.
Note: This document is prepared as a quick guide to the above documents. It is not designed to be a definitive treatment, a recommendation or a solicitation. Competent legal advice must be obtained when considering the completion of these documents. We are not lawyers so we can not create these documents. We are financial advisors, so we can help you sort out your wishes. We have seen the results of NOT getting them done, and it is NOT pretty!