The idea of doing Estate Planning can seem depressing, and thinking about it can be daunting. Who really knows anything about estate planning (other than lawyers and experts)? As with many things, however, confronting those unpleasant feelings can be empowering.
While Estate Planning can get complex, there are some simple things you can do and some simple things you should not do that will give you some control over the unknown and peace of mind that you are on the right path. These simple things are not sufficient, by themselves, as a comprehensive Estate Plan, but they will set you in the right direction.
Things To Do
Healthcare Power of Attorney
We all like to think that we will live long and prosper until we go peacefully in our sleep at the age of 100 or so. Reality is usually different than that. sudden events can and do happen. Even if we survive into old age, living longer often means a long slow decline.
Because people are living longer, more people develop dementia and cognitive decline in old age than generations past. The biggest issue for seniors, perhaps, is a concern about declining cognitive functions and the ability to make prompt and appropriate decisions. If you become incapacitated, a guardianship estate will be needed for you, and your decisions will be in the hands of a judge and whoever steps forward to be your guardian, unless you have done a Power of Attorney.
Durable Property Power of Attorney
Paying bills and doing other routine things can begin to slip as cognitive decline creeps in with age. People often fail to realize what is happening to them. If the mortgage or taxes aren’t paid, you can lose your house.
Doing a Durable Property Power of Attorney allows you to authorize someone you trust to be your agent to pay your bills, handle the routine tasks and manage them for your benefit if your physical or mental health declines and you become unable to manage those things yourself.
If you do not have Powers of Attorney in place, someone will have to petition the court to become your guardian if you are no longer able to keep up with your own affairs and make your own decisions. You won’t have any say in who it is, and your decisions will be subject to oversight by a judge. Having Powers of Attorney in place allows you to control who it is that will help you if you need help, and it avoids the need for a Guardianship Estate.
Explore Life Care Options Now
You should explore alternative life care options well before you cognitive and physical decline becomes a crisis. Knowing the options and planning ahead puts you in the driver’s seat as you age.
Life care services are a growing business. Many more options are are available today for seniors to help you navigate those waters that were not available in the past. Explore the options now, while you can. Talk out the options with an expert who can guide you. You don’t have to make any decisions now, but you can put plans in place for the future.
Even if you are not ready to tackle comprehensive Estate Planning, you can do some simple things to put your affairs in some semblance of order. One very simple thing you can do is to exercise the power to designate beneficiaries on assets that allow you the option of designating beneficiaries.
Don’t just think about primary beneficiaries; think about designating secondary beneficiaries and even tertiary beneficiaries (a third level of beneficiary) because life doesn’t always go the way we think it will. Reviewing your beneficiary options and adjusting them is a very simple Estate Planning tool.
Many bank accounts today allow a Payable on Death (POD) or Transfer on Death (TOD) option. That means you can make your bank accounts POD or TOD to specific people. When you pass, you can set up your bank accounts to pay out or transfer on death to the people you wish to leave your accounts to. As with beneficiary designations, you can add secondary and even tertiary POD/TOD designees.
Things Not To Do
Add Names to Your Bank Account
Many people are tempted to add people to their bank accounts for the purpose of allowing them to pay bills. In some states, you can do this without causing them to be a joint owner of your account, but beware: if you add a name to your account as a joint owner, that person will have full ownership rights to your account.
What that means is that they become owners of your account. They legally have the right to clean out your account. Even if you trust someone not to do that, your account will be subject to the creditors of the people you add to the account.
Giving authority through a Power of Attorney is a much better option. A Power of Attorney provides access to your accounts to pay bills. It doesn’t create any legal authority to use your accounts for anything but your benefit, and it doesn’t expose your agents to the creditors of others.
Don’t Put Off Doing Powers of Attorney
Many people put off doing Powers of Attorney because they are healthy and able to make their own decisions and manage their own affairs. Physical and cognitive decline can creep in slowly over time, and many people don’t even realize what is happening to them. If you wait too long to create Powers of Attorney, you may not be able to do them at all. Don’t put off doing Powers of Attorney simply because you feel good today.
Don’t Put Off Life Care Planning
Many people have a desire to remain at home as long as possible, and they put off exploring other life care options. Exploring life care options does not mean you have to use them right away, but it allows you an opportunity to have some control over your future if your ability to stay safely at home changes..
Knowing your options for the future, can help you plan and control your future. You might be able to remain in your own home with the help of outside services. If it becomes apparent that you cannot remain safely in your own home, planning ahead allows you the option of determining your own fate.
Don’t leave the decisions up to your children or other family members in the urgency of a crisis to determine how you should be cared for if you become unable to care for yourself.
Don’t Put Off Comprehensive Estate Planning
The unknowns, uncertainties and lack of understanding of what is required for comprehensive Estate Planning keep many people from doing it. A good, reputable and competent attorney can give you peace of mind and help you navigate your way through the estate planning process. You don’t need to know everything about estate planning; you just need a competent and trustworthy attorney to help you.
At the Drendel & Jansons Law Group, we have been doing estate planning for over 30 years. We do estate planning for a flat fee so you know the cost before you commit.
We can walk your through all the options and considerations in an initial meeting for half the attorney’s regular hourly rate to help you determine the best plan for you – no obligations. If you decide to go forward, we will wrap that initial fee into the flat fee for the type of estate planning you choose. If you decide not to do your estate planning now or with us, you will still have the benefit of the exercise to determine what would be best for you.
To get started, contact us and ask for an Estate Planning Worksheet. The Worksheet is designed to get you thinking about the basic decisions to be made and to provide us information we need to guide you through the process. Set up an appointment on Zoom, by phone or in-person and provide us the completed Worksheet, and we will walk you through the options and considerations to do your estate planning.
To receive a worksheet and set up a meeting to prepare your estate planning – contact us!