Carissa Giebel column: Estate Planning: Asking the Tough Questions
11:00 PM, Nov. 28, 2011
Have you done your estate planning? Did you discuss your plan with your children? What about your parents? Did they discuss their plan with you? Estate planning can sometimes involve uncomfortable and awkward conversations with family members or friends. But asking your loved ones the tough questions helps ensure that their wishes will be followed. Perhaps you can start the discussion with your family by discussing your own estate planning.
Planning for death or incapacity is not always something people look forward to, but without it, you are significantly increasing the chances of a family feud over your family assets or over who should care for you. Plus, you are leaving the decision making up to the court system and possibly subjecting your estate to many fees and taxes that could have been avoided with proper planning.
Everyone age 18 and older should have both a financial power of attorney and a health care power of attorney. These documents name someone to make your financial and health care decisions if you are unable to make the decisions yourself. Everyone with minor children needs a will to nominate guardians for their children. When thinking about who to name as guardian for minor children, or who to name as a financial or health care power of attorney, it’s a good idea to discuss it with the people you are contemplating naming. Make sure they are comfortable with and willing to take on that role.
If you want your assets to be distributed differently than provided by state law, or asset protection for yourself or for your beneficiaries, or a plan to avoid probate, a will or a trust is needed. Are you looking to protect assets from potential nursing home costs? If so, discuss your wishes with your family so when they seek legal advice when the time comes, they know your wishes and how you want your assets distributed.
Does your health care agent know your wishes for your medical treatment? Does your power of attorney for finances know what is important to you financially and what, if any, gifting patterns you have? Do your guardians know what values are important to pass along to your children? Make sure your wishes regarding your memorial service are clearly portrayed, preferably in writing and an oral discussion with your family.
Does your family know where to find all your asset information, including health and life insurance policies and previously filed tax returns? Does anyone know where to find the key for your safe or have access to your safety deposit box at the bank?
Don’t try to do your own estate plan. Unfortunately, those who do it themselves usually leave a mess that ends up costing their families a lot of extra time and money to fix the mistakes. The initial investment of professional assistance is well worth the time and will save your loved ones a lot of headache and money down the line.
If you have an estate planning attorney that you work with and trust, refer him/her to your family and friends so they can get their planning done too. Estate planning is not to take care of your assets, but instead to take care of your loved ones, leaving a legacy.