Advance Directive

What is an Advance Directive and Do I Need One?

These are difficult questions to think about. However, as every estate planning attorney knows, the questions “What is an Advance Directive?” and “Do I need one?” are very important. Should you ever become unable to speak for yourself, reports the Enid News & Eagle in the article “Veteran Connection: What you should know about advance directives,” there is a way to make a plan, so your wishes are known to others and by legally conveying them in advance, making sure you have a say, even when you don’t have a voice.

Everyone needs Advance Directives
Everyone over the age of 18 should have an Advance Directive so family and doctors know your wishes.

The advance directive helps family members and your doctors understand your wishes about medical care. The wishes you express through these two documents described below, require reflection on values, beliefs, views on medical treatments, quality of life during intense medical care and may even touch on spiritual beliefs.

The goal is to prepare so your wishes are followed, when you are no longer able to express them. This can include situations like end-of-life care, the use of a respirator to breathe for you, or who you want to be in the room with you, when you are near death.

It should be noted that an advance directive also includes a mental health component, that extends to making decisions on your behalf when there are mental health issues, not just physical issues.

There are two types of documents: a durable power of attorney for health care and a living will.

The durable power of attorney for health care lets you name a person you trust to make health care decisions when you cannot make them for yourself. This person is called your health care agent or surrogate and will have the legal right to make these decisions. If you don’t have this in place, your doctor will decide who should speak for you. They may rely on order of relationships: a legal guardian, spouse, adult child, parent, sibling, grandparent, grandchild or a close friend.

A living will is the document that communicates what kind of end of life health care you want, if you become ill and cannot communicate with your doctors. This helps your named person and your doctor make decisions about your care that align with your own wishes.

Another very important part of this issue: the conversation with the people who you want to be on hand when these decisions have to be made. Are they willing to serve in this capacity? Can they make the hard decisions, especially if it’s what you wanted and not what they would want? Do you want a spouse to make these decisions on your behalf? Many people do that, but you may have a trusted family member or friend you would prefer, if you feel that your spouse will be too overwhelmed to follow your wishes.

For additional information about Advance Directives and estate planning, download our free books and reports.

Reference: Enid News & Eagle (March 13, 2019) “Veteran Connection: What you should know about advance directives”

Get Estate Planning Details Done in 2019

Are you ready to resolve some of the things in 2019 that you really, really, did plan on doing in 2018? This article from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “As a new year closes in, resolve to get those pesky estate details resolved,” offers to act as a reminder—or a kick in the pants—to get you to take care of these frequently overlooked estate planning details.

Health Care Plans. If you’ve got health care issues or a chronic condition, get your advance directive for health care done. The name of the documents vary by state (in Florida they’re called a Designation of Healthcare Surrogate and a Living Will), but whatever you call it, work with your estate planning attorney to create the documents that convey your wishes, if and when you are not able to communicate them yourself. That means your end of life wishes, so if you end up in the hospital’s intensive care unit your family or health care providers aren’t making decisions based on what they think you might have wanted, but what you have actually declared that you want.

Power of Attorney for Financial Affairs. You’re not giving up any power or control over your finances in having this created. Instead, you are preparing to allow someone to act on your behalf for financial matters, if for some reason you are unable to. Let’s say you become injured in an accident and are in the hospital for an extended period of time. How will your bills be paid? Who will pay the mortgage?

For both of these documents, talk with the people you want to name first, and make sure you are both clear on their responsibilities. Have at least one backup, just in case.

A will and if appropriate, trusts. If you don’t have a will or a trust, why not? Without a will, the state’s laws determine who will receive your assets. Your family may not like the decisions, but it will be too late. Speak with an experienced estate planning attorney to get your will and other documents properly prepared.

Check how your assets are titled. Are they in your name only, jointly titled, etc.? If you have trusts, have you retitled your assets to conform to the trusts? If you have beneficiaries on certain accounts, like life insurance policies and 401(k)s, when was the last time you reviewed your beneficiaries? Don’t be like the doctor who did everything but check beneficiaries. His ex-wife was very happy to receive a large 401(k) account, and there was no recourse for his second wife of 30 years.

Make a list so assets can be located. To finalize these details, you’ll need a list of assets, account numbers and what financial institution holds them. The information will need to be gathered and then organized in a way so key people in your life—your spouse, children, etc.—can find them. Some people put them on a spreadsheet in their home computer, but if your executor does not have a password, they won’t be able to access them. If they are in a safe deposit box that only has your name, they won’t be accessible.

Reference: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Dec. 24, 2018) “As a new year closes in, resolve to get those pesky estate details resolved”

What Happens in Your World After You Die?

We’re not talking about what happens to your soul, or if you are headed to a peaceful place, or even what happens to your physical remains. Have you thought about what happens to the world you leave, your family and friends and your possessions, after you die?

Let’s say you don’t believe in anything in particular. Or you’re deeply spiritual and believe that death will be a wonderous journey. Either way, you should devote time and energy to what happens right here on earth after you die, says Forbes in the article, “What Will Really Happen After You Depart?”

31179858004_e5c33b693c_oNo, not just because it’s the right thing to do and not just because you’re curious. It’s because you want your family to remember you for the awesome legacy you plan on leaving, not because of the horrible hot mess you left behind that they spent three years trying to figure it out, while trying to live their lives.

Estate organization is not the exact same thing as estate planning. An experienced estate attorney or elder law attorney can help you draft your will, your advance directive, your power(s) of attorney and a trust, if you need it. Your attorney most likely also has a copy of those documents.

 However, the attorney has no power over what you do with your original estate planning documents, once you leave their office.

One idea is to develop a guidebook or “game plan” for your family and loved ones, while you’re alive. It’s known that there’s a strong correlation between how we face death and prepare our families—and their ability to survive, adjust and start the recovery process. Organizing your estate has been called a “gift of love” that goes far beyond when you can be around to take care of your family.

Answer these questions to start the estate organizing process:

  • Does a family member know where to find your advance directive, if you end up in the hospital?
  • Where are your legal documents and who in your family knows where to find them?
  • Who has access to your bank accounts and knows your login data?
  • Are you now caring for someone? Who’d assume that responsibility, if you’re unable to do so?
  • Have you made final arrangements for your death, funeral and burial or cremation?
  • Who knows about the plans and where the paperwork is located?
  • Where are your insurance documents, and who knows where to find them?
  • Who’ll take care of your pets, when you are no longer able?

Let’s also keep in mind that getting all these plans and documents in place is just the first step. They don’t do anyone any good, if you don’t talk with your family and loved ones about them. You have to make sure that they understand your wishes to avoid misunderstandings or family feuds, after you’re not around to correct them. The more you can discuss these matters in a calm, caring fashion, the better their grief process will be. Think of this as your opportunity to show how much you care about them. You want them to remember you with love, grieve in a healthy manner and be able to incorporate your loss, as their lives continue. Memories are a powerful force, and how you prepare for your passing, will also be a memory for them.

Reference: Forbes (September 13, 2018) “What Will Really Happen After You Depart?”

What Goes into a Good Will?

If you are a parent, you need a will that names guardians for your minor children. Anyone who is an adult, should have a will.

If you are an adult, you need a will. If you are a parent, you need a will that names guardians for your minor children. Anyone who is an adult, should have a will.

Th (2)The core of an estate plan is a document known as a will, the legal document that tells your heirs and the court how you want your assets handled upon your death. If you don’t have a will and you die, decisions about the distribution of your possessions and property are made by a judge, who likely doesn’t know who you are, or what you might have wanted to happen to your assets. If you have minor children and have not had a will created, then a judge will also be the one making the decisions about your children. That’s probably not what you or your family want to have happen.

Health Day’s recent article, “Wills & Living Wills,”provides some general rules for writing a will:

  • In most states, you must be 18 years of age or older.
  • The testator (author) of the will must be of sound mind for the will to be valid.
  • The document must clearly state that it’s your will.
  • You must name an executor–that’s the individual who will see that your estate is distributed, according to your wishes.
  • You must sign the will in the presence of at least two witnesses.
  • In many instances, notarizing or recording your will is not required. However, it can protect against any claims that it's invalid.
  • You and your spouse should have separate wills.

You should also review your will regularly and consider making changes if:

  • The value of your assets changes.
  • You marry, divorce, remarry, or expand your family with another child.
  • You move to a different state.
  • Your executor passes away or becomes incapacitated, or your relationship changes.
  • One of your heirs or a loved one dies.
  • The probate and tax laws affecting your estate change.

It’s also important to draft an advance directive. This includes a living will with directions on what medical care you do or don't want, if you're unable to speak.

Your best course of action is to meet with an experienced estate planning attorney and let him or her guide you through the estate planning process. Because every state has different rules, your estate planning attorney will know what your state does and does not allow.

Reference: Health Day (March 21, 2018) “Wills & Living Wills”

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