The other day I was spending some quality time with a very good friend of mine, enjoying the nice spring weather and having a great time talking about various topics, when as often happens the cell phone rings. After seeing who it was, my friend decided to answer it, gesturing that it would be a short call. Prescient she wasn’t as it turned out to be not only a long call but emotional as well. Now I’m not one to engage in the art of eavesdropping but in this call I did not have to.
From the conversation with my friend afterwards, and the loud statements that were made during the call, here is what I gleaned; my friend’s mother is apparently suffering from pre Alzheimer symptoms and some of the family members are ready to put her into a nursing home. Where it got loud was when I heard my friend state her view on what she wants, and believe me, she was QUITE explicit. Unfortunately, the mother has nothing in place that establishes what she wants and therefore the conversations (and dare I say pending arguments) among the siblings has started. I certainly hope this works out for all parties and I’m sure it will, but how much better could this have gone if the mother while completely lucid would have made her wishes known?
So what can we do now to let our loved ones know what we want? That is the purpose of an estate plan – to provide instructions to our loved ones not just at death but in life as well. The following are the basic items that will provide a solid foundation to your estate plan:
1. WILL: This is your instruction guide as to who gets what and when you want them to receive it. You get to choose who will carry out your instructions (the executor). In many states, a handwritten will witnessed by two non beneficiary people over age 18 is considered valid. I’ve found an easy way to find out your state’s requirements is simply by going to Google and typing in “Requirements for a valid will in (insert your state)”. You may also find this resource to be helpful: Make Your Will: A Quick Checklist.
2. POWER OF ATTORNEY(S): This document allows you to choose someone to “step in your shoes” and make decisions on your behalf in the event you are not able to. For example this document could be valuable in the event you are incapacitated or even if you are traveling and simply not present. There are two types of POAs which are:
- Health Care: The person you designate for this will make health care decisions on your behalf. This POA works directly with the Advanced Health Care Directive (described below).
- Financial: This person will be authorized to make financial decisions on your behalf when you are not able. What’s important to note is that you can outline exactly what actions this person can take (e.g. just paying bills to buying/selling investments).
3. HEALTH CARE DIRECTIVE: This is a written document that instructs medical personnel on what your wishes are as they pertain to life saving techniques that you want and don’t want. This document all too often gets missed in the estate planning process and can lead to divisive conversations between loved ones. You can find the form to complete for your state here: State Specific Advanced Health Care Directive.
4. 3 RING BINDER: It’s all well and good if you complete the aforementioned documents, but what good are they if no one can find them? A simple binder with all your estate planning documents (or a copy of them) will help ensure that your wishes will be followed. Make sure you let your chosen executor and POAs know where to find it.
Keep in mind that the documents mentioned here are the foundation of your estate plan and that monitoring and tweaking will most likely occur in the offing, but by having these documents in place, your sense of relief and your loved ones clarity on your wishes will be set.