So the song goes, “L is for the way you look at me. O is for the only one I see. V is very, very extraordinary. E is for… estate planning for the ones the adore!” At least that’s how I remember it! This year, why not declare your l-o-v-e with a Valentine’s gift that will last for a lifetime and ensures your family will be cared for no matter what happens in life? Estate planning is not just moving assets and avoiding taxes. It is also a way to relieve your family from the burdens that come with having to make hard decisions on your behalf. Ultimately, a well-executed estate plan makes clear your wishes, promotes harmony among your family members, and clarifies your instructions on how you want your affairs handled. How romantic is that?
It is as romantic as it is simple. You make the choices you want right now, so your family does not have to make them for you later. You create documents that express those choices in writing in a way that eliminates any confusion. Finally, you make sure those documents are organized so that your plan can be implemented upon your incapacity or death.
Your estate plan should cover situations during your life in which you are not able to act on your own behalf. Incapacity planning may include a revocable living trust, but at a minimum it should include a health care power of attorney, a living will, and a durable power of attorney. In the event you become unable to speak for yourself, you want to make sure your personal wishes concerning health care decisions are honored. Providing your loved ones with documents that clearly spell out these wishes can save them the stress of having to guess what you would want.
A health care power of attorney allows you to designate your choice of individual to make health care decisions on your behalf if you become unable to make those decisions yourself.
A living will gives specific instructions to your loved ones about what kind of medical treatments you do or do not want in the event of a terminal and irreversible medical situation.
Your durable power of attorney will appoint an agent to handle important property and financial decisions. Having these documents in place also guards against your family having to go to court to have a person appointed to act on your behalf.
Next, your estate plan should provide a plan for your loved ones after your death. Having clear instructions about how you wish your estate to be handled helps alleviate stress and discourages conflict within the family. This can be accomplished through a will or a revocable living trust that spells out who you want your assets distributed and whether those assets should be left outright or held in trust. Also, if you have minor children, your plan should include provisions for those children after your death. Many people take a lot of time deciding what to do with their assets but forget that they need to appoint a tutor or guardian for their children as well.
Creating at least a basic plan to address these issues can be a great gift to your family and loved ones. Without some sort of plan, they could spend a lot of time and money trying to guess what you might have wanted in the event of a serious medical situation or your death. Instead, by preparing your estate plan now you have the opportunity to give your loved ones the best Valentine’s gift of all: peace of mind. To determine what estate planning tools will work best for you, you should consult with an experienced estate planning professional.
The information provided is not intended to be legal advice and does not constitute any attorney/client relationship. You should consult with an attorney for individual advice regarding your own situation.
Ms. Melancon is an attorney with Legacy Estate & Elder Law of Louisiana, LLC with offices in Baton Rouge and Lake Charles, LA. The primary focus of her practice is estate planning, probate, special needs planning, and elder law. For more information or to attend an upcoming estate planning seminar, call her office at (225) 744-0027