Whether you are young or old, don’t let resolutions about planning for the future get put off by thinking there’s always next year. While it’s hard to think about what happens after you are gone, not planning can put your loved ones in serious trouble and without enough assets to support them.
If you pass away or become incapacitation without a Will or Trust, the laws of your state will determine how your property is distributed, and the court will assign a guardian to your minor children. Not having a Will and/or Trust may increase your family’s tax liabilities, not to mention the legal disputes or challenges that result when there is no estate plan in place.
Making difficult Estate Planning decisions now about your Will and estate will eliminate the burden from your loved ones having to make decisions later. A Will is a necessary document to protect the interest of both you and your family. This document states how you want your property distributed among your heirs and beneficiaries and lists gifts to other family members or friends, charitable donations and other financial arrangements.
- There are people who count on you
- The unexpected does happen
- It’s not as complicated or time consuming as you think
This story is a cautionary tale. A young man lost both his mother and stepfather.
His mother died first, followed some months later by his stepfather. His mother left a Will leaving everything to her spouse (his stepfather), and if he predeceased, to her son. At his mother’s death, since all her assets were jointly owned with her husband, all her assets passed to him (the husband).
At the death of his stepfather, since the stepfather had no Will, his estate passed by the intestate laws of Florida. In his case, he had no children, his parents were deceased, he had no brothers or sisters and no nieces or nephews. Without a Will, the estate must search for heirs and the assets of the estate will likely pass to distant relatives with whom the stepfather may have had no contact.
The stepson will likely receive nothing.
Laws and lives change, so it’s important to make sure you have the proper documents in place. You may move to another state, get divorced or remarry and have children from previous marriages you would like to provide for.
One example of how changing laws have impacted the need to plan is the Privacy Rule of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Many of us grew up in a time when a friend or relative was hospitalized, we could call the hospital to inquire about their well-being. Today with HIPAA regulations, hospitals and doctors are no longer able to give out any patient information or confirm a patient is even in the hospital. This is even true for parents whose children are away and over the age of 18! Parents have no rights to obtain medical information on legal-age children, even if the child is covered under the parent’s health insurance. A signed HIPAA authorization and Medical Power of Attorney allows parents access to their adult children’s medical information. Requirements for these documents can vary from state to state, so an attorney can make sure documents are appropriate for each situation.
Feeling smug because you have your estate plan in place? Estate planning is not a once in a lifetime event, but a lifelong process that requires revisiting. The start of a new year is a good time to review to make sure your wishes haven’t changed:
- Are the Beneficiaries you selected in your Will and Trust still the ones you would name today? How about alternates? Are they still willing and able to assume those responsibilities? Are the Beneficiaries on your life insurance up to date?
- For those with minor children, are the Guardians you named the persons you want to raise your children? What about pets?
- Does your planning reflect all your assets, big and small?
- Have you created letters of instruction with key information in the event of an emergency, including names and contact information for key professional advisors, location of original records, how to find passwords and other key online information, key medical information, insurances summaries and other general instructions?
So, while you are setting your new goals for the New Year, ensure you and your family are protected in the event you become disabled, terminally ill or pass away unexpectedly. This could be the one goal this year that has a lasting effect on you and your family’s future. An experienced attorney can help guide your estate planning experience and tailor your documents to meet your needs and wishes for the future.