“We Need to Do Our Will”

Most people recognize that estate planning is something they should do, much like going to the dentist, but so many of us never get around to actually getting it done. It is common to say “we need to do our will” but never make the time to consult an estate planning attorney or write a simple will at home. Knowing who should have an estate plan and what documents are needed is a great first step to getting it done.

Who Typically has an Estate Plan?

Who should have an estate plan and who does have one are two different things. A mere 40% of Americans have taken steps to put an estate plan in place, despite the common understanding that everyone should make the effort to execute their estate planning documents. Statistics show that as few as 22% of millennials have a will, although that number goes up as people age, hitting about 80% by the time people reach age 72. This may be because people have started to face their own mortality or because they have accumulated enough wealth to be concerned about what happens to it after their passing. While we recommend that everyone has an estate plan, these major life changes are great reasons to make a plan:

  • Acquiring assets or money through inheritance, investments, or other means.
  • Buying your first house
  • Getting married or divorced
  • If you are in a committed relationship but not married
  • Having or adopting children
  • Owning a business
  • And especially if you develop any health issues.

What Documents are Contained in a Solid Estate Plan?

While a Last Will and Testament is important as it will help ensure a smooth transition for your loved ones after your passing, a complete estate plan contains more than just this one document. Any good estate planning or elder law attorney will advise you to also prepare and sign a Health Care Proxy and a Financial Power of Attorney.

A Health Care Proxy is a document that allows you to designate an agent to make your medical decisions in the event you are incapacitated or unable to do so. While this document increases in importance with age as the likelihood of a decline in mental capacity goes up, the reality is that anything could happen to any one of us at any time. A car accident could leave you unconscious in the hospital, if only temporarily, and you will need someone to confer with medical professionals and make medical decisions on your behalf. If you don’t have a Health Care Proxy in place, the person left doing so may not necessarily be the person you would choose. By executing a Health Care Proxy, you can make sure that you have planned for the worst and chosen the most appropriate person in your life to step up to the plate for you in a time of need.

A Financial Power of Attorney is a document in which you appoint someone to handle your financial affairs on your behalf. This person may act for you out of convenience (you are out of the country) or necessity (you are injured or incapacitated), but they may only act at your direction or in your best interests. They can essentially step into your shoes from a financial standpoint and act on your behalf. By executing a Financial Power of Attorney, you can prevent the expensive and time-consuming need for loved ones to petition the court system to become your financial guardian in the unfortunate event you become incapacitated.

The Last Will and Testament

Finally, every individual should sign a Last Will and Testament outlining who they wish to receive their property after their death. This is especially important for parents of minor children who will include a provision naming a guardian to care for those children in their absence. If this question is left for the courts and surviving relatives to decide, your children may not end up with your first-choice guardian. If you feel you cannot take the time to consult with an attorney to prepare your Last Will and Testament, it is possible and easy to write your own basic Will. Head over to the Dana and Associates YouTube channel for a video that walks you through how to write your own Will. If you would like a more comprehensive plan or have any questions, contact Dana and Associates, LLC to speak with an experienced estate planning attorney.