Here’s a fact that may surprise you: only one-third of Americans have a will. Even fewer have a single estate planning document, whether it’s a power of attorney or healthcare proxy. It’s true: no one wants to think about it. It’s uncomfortable and for many, just one of those topics left alone. Of course, we know it’s not that simple and as estate planning lawyers, many of our clients come to us in hopes of finding a slightly different mindset so that it’s less awkward, especially when it comes to talking to their family members.
While estate changing, as a whole, doesn’t change often, it’s important to understand it’s our situations that change. We have children, they grow up, go to college and begin their lives. If we’re lucky, they give us grandchildren. We buy and sell homes, change careers and build our retirement funds. If we can think of estate planning as part of that complete life process, it’s less awkward. And really, when it comes right down to it, it’s really about living our lives. Consider these scenarios:
“I wanted to get us all together today because we’re all going to die and I need to get my will updated and make sure you guys know which bank I use and who my lawyer is.”
Most likely, you’re going to hear panicked questions of “What’s wrong?” and “Oh, my God…what are you saying?”
Now, consider this:
“Mom and I wanted to get us all together today because first, we don’t get to spend a lot of time together these days and we miss all of us being together as a family. We’re getting ready to retire and we’ve been considering our assets, the house, the boat and the futures of our grandbabies. We wanted to talk about that with you tonight.”
You may get a, “Why now?” or “Ut oh…does this mean I’m not getting the house?” from your son who can make lighten any situation. Ultimately, though, you’re approaching it from a far different perspective, one that invites conversation instead of panic.
Once that door’s open, it’s a far easier conversation.
After you’ve discussed the house and after mentioning the Hawaiian vacation you and your wife are finally taking, be sure to explore a few more important estate planning documents:
Health Care Power of Attorney
Who would you trust to make healthcare decisions were you injured in an accident or become incapacitated in any other way? A Health Care Power of Attorney is an invaluable tool designed to ensure your wishes are met regarding your health. While the obvious answer is appointing your spouse, there are reasons some people opt to name someone else. Most importantly: be sure they’re OK with being in that position.
Another important estate planning document is the revocable trust or living trust. This document allows you to name someone to make financial decisions if you become incapacitated. What makes these documents a wise choice is you maintain control over your assets and should something happen, your designee steps in until you’re able to make those decisions for yourself.
The Living Will
This document differs in that it stipulates your preferences regarding those extraordinary measures that would keep you alive. This can be as specific as you choose and can ease the burden on family members in a difficult time as they’re trying to understand what each decision means.
You may not have heard much about HIPAA authorizations in recent years; however, they’ve become significant in the healthcare field. Tighter restrictions associated with healthcare laws and technology make this document crucial.
Remember though, these documents are only as good as your planning. You’re not obligated to share all the details with your family, but should you decide to call a family meeting, remember, it’s all about the approach. To learn more about your estate planning efforts, contact our offices today.