After a long and busy career, you’re getting ready to retire or you’ve just retired. It’s about to be summer all year long—the days are as busy or as easy as you choose. Your time, at last, is your own. Now would be a good time to get your estate planning in order, when the press of daily meetings and deadlines has lessened or is gone from your schedule.
In case you are among the many Americans who don’t have a will, this is something to move to the front burner. If you don’t have a will in place, your family may find themselves squabbling over money and personal possessions during a time when emotions are running high. The lack of a will means a court will decide who gets what, which will further inflame a bad situation.
Has the term “estate planning” always put you off from planning for the future? Many people think they don’t need an estate plan because they don’t live in a mansion on acres of rolling hills. Few of us do! But an estate plan is the term used to describe a comprehensive series of legal documents needed to protect you and your family while you are living and after you have passed.
If you don’t have a will because you think you don’t need one, you do. If you own a home, a car, and a few bank accounts, all of those will be distributed according to the intestacy laws of your state. If you have a will, you get to determine how you want your property to be distributed.
Your home may be at its highest value right now. Do any of your children want to buy the family home, or should it be sold, and the proceeds distributed among your heirs? If you leave the family home in your will in equal shares to your children and one wants to keep it while others do not, you may have created a problem for the family. Having a family discussion now and incorporating your decision as part of your will can pre-empt a family battle.
The strong emotions of grief often cloud judgement. Daughters who refused to accept jewelry or a serving platter for decades may suddenly themselves arguing over who gets what. With a will, you can specify, piece by piece, your wishes. You can include a letter of intent with your estate planning documents explaining your thinking. Or you can start gifting certain possessions now, while you are living, and enjoy knowing your descendants have items imbued with positive memories.
In addition to a last will and testament, an estate plan includes a power of attorney, healthcare power of attorney, advance directive and may include trusts.
While you are enjoying your retirement, you want to have a power of attorney in place so the person of your choice, usually an adult child who lives nearby, could step in, and manage your affairs if you became too ill or were injured and could not do so. Like many estate planning documents, you hope you don’t need it, but if you didn’t have it, the process of gaining the legal right to handle your finances would take a very long time and would add a preventable cost.
You’ll also need a healthcare power of attorney so a loved one can make medical decisions on your behalf. Depending on where you live and whether or not you are married, your spouse or partner may not be able to be involved with your medical care without a healthcare power of attorney document. A treating physician or other healthcare workers will instead make decisions, and they may not be the decisions you would want.
The advanced directive, also known as a living will, is a document used to detail your wishes for end-of-life care. Without it, you may be kept alive by artificial means, when you might wish otherwise. Family members may find themselves having to guess at what you would have wanted, which is a terrible burden to place on loved ones.
If you’ve retired, congratulations! And if you’re about to retire, the best is yet to come. Retirement will be even better when you’ve taken care of your estate plan and can enjoy every day like a summer vacation. Book a call with Estate Planning Attorney Rod Hatley today!