Estate Planning

Estate Planning - Will, Trusts & More


Many people believe that estate planning is only for people who are particularly wealthy, have elaborate schemes in mind for passing their money to their heirs, or for people who are acutely ill and contemplating their death. This could not be further from the truth!

Estate planning is for every husband, wife, mother, father, grandparent, business owner, professional, or anyone else who has someone they care about, and is concerned about providing responsibly for their own well-being and for the well-being of those they love, and for anyone who seeks to make a difference in the lives of others after they’re gone. Estate planning is not “death planning”: it’s “life planning,” and an essential and rewarding process for individuals and families who engage in it.

When done properly, estate planning requires that a highly trained attorney lead you through one or more in-depth meetings to uncover your hopes, fears, and expectations for yourself and for those who are most important to you. This process almost always requires the preparation of several sophisticated legal documents, including a Will, a Durable Power of Attorney, a Living Will, a Healthcare Proxy, a HIPAA Authorization, and one or more Trusts (depending on the size and configuration of the estate and the needs and wishes of the client). But “estate planning” isn't just the documents. Estate Planning is a process, represented by a complete strategy that is properly documented and maintained by an estate planning attorney who takes the time to get to know you, and who is committed to continuing to serve you.

Estate Plan Maintenance

Your estate plan is a snapshot of you, your family, your assets and the tax laws in effect at the time it was created. All of these change over time, and so should your plan. It is unreasonable to expect the simple Will written when you were a newlywed to be effective now that you have a growing family, or now that you are divorced from your spouse, or now that you are retired and have an ever-increasing swarm of grandchildren! Over the course of your lifetime, your estate plan will need check-ups, maintenance, tweaking, maybe even replacing. So, how do you know when it’s time to give your estate plan a check-up? Generally, any change in your personal, family, financial or health situation, or a change in the tax laws, could prompt a change in your estate plan.

Don’t End Up Like Terri Schiavo

One of most famous cases that highlights the need for a medical emergency plan is that of Terri Schiavo, a 26-year-old Florida woman who collapsed and fell into a coma in February 1990. Ms. Schiavo didn’t have a Living Will or Healthcare Proxy, and as a result was kept alive in a coma on life support for 15 years while her husband and parents fought in court over taking her off life support. Finally, in March 2005, a Florida court ordered removal of Ms. Schiavo’s feeding tube. She died 13 days later—and the autopsy proved that she had been brain dead since she collapsed 15 years earlier.

While the Schiavo case is an extreme one, it emphasizes the fact that without a medical emergency plan, your family members may be left to guess (or possibly fight) about your medical treatment and end-of-life wishes.

But, it doesn’t have to be that way. A Living Will and Healthcare Directive can make your wishes known and legally enforceable. If you haven’t reviewed your healthcare documents in the last year, now is the time to make sure they reflect your current wishes. Call us today if you have any questions about health care decisions and how to best communicate them to your loved ones.

Planning for Property Management with a Durable Power of Attorney

A Durable Power of Attorney allows you to select a trusted family member or friend who will be responsible for managing your money and other property if you become mentally incompetent. Without this document, bank and investment accounts held in your name will become inaccessible, IRA distributions can’t be requested, bills won’t get paid, tax returns won’t be filed, and property can’t be bought or sold. Without a properly drafted Durable Power of Attorney, instead, a loved one may be forced to petition the court to be appointed as your legal guardian of your property, and a judge will oversee the guardian’s every move. A Durable Power of Attorney can provide authority to handle these issues without the court’s involvement.

Caution: Durable Powers of Attorney Can Become Obsolete

Older Durable Powers of Attorney can be “obsolete” because many institutions don’t want to rely on stale documents. Depending on your circumstances, a stale, obsolete power of attorney may not be able to help you and your family with:
  • Insurance contracts (life, disability, long term care, property and casualty)
  • Annuity contracts
  • Retirement plans (pension, profit-sharing and stock bonus plans, IRAs, 401(k)s and 403(b)s)
  • Online financial accounts for banking and investments
  • Online personal accounts such as email, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn
  • Elder care and special needs planning
If you haven't updated your Durable Power of Attorney since 2013, it might be time for a fresh one. Call us—we can help make sure you and your family are fully protected. Furthermore, even a later Durable Power of Attorney may have been drafted to only allow limited powers to your agent. You may wish to consider updating your Durable Power of Attorney to reflect the proper powers for each stage of your life.

A Good Estate Plan Needs Up to Date “Ancillary” Documents

In the estate planning community, Living Wills, Healthcare Proxy's and Durable Powers of Attorney are called “ancillary” documents. But don’t be fooled by the name: these documents are essential and should be updated as lives, finances, and laws change. Call us today with your questions; we’re always here to help.