Estate Planning Checklist

Dying without an estate plan creates additional costs and eliminates any chance your wishes for loved ones will be followed after your death. Typically, people think about last wills when they marry or have children, and then do not think about last wills or estate plans until they retire. While a last will is important, there are other estate planning documents that are just as important, says the recent article “10 Steps to Writing a Will” from U.S. News & World Report.

Most assets, including retirement accounts and insurance policy proceeds, can be transferred to heirs outside of a will, if they have designated beneficiaries. However, the outcome of an estate may be more impacted by Power of Attorney for financial matters and Medical Power of Attorney documents.  To help figure out what you may need, you can use this article as an estate planning checklist.

Here are ten specific tasks that need to be completed for your last will to be effective. Remember, if the will does not comply with your state’s estate law, it can be declared invalid.

  1. Find an estate planning attorney who is experienced with the laws of your state.
  2. Select beneficiaries for your last will.
  3. Check beneficiaries on non-probate assets to make sure they are current.
  4. Decide who will be the executor of your last will.
  5. Name a guardian for minor children, if yours are still young.
  6. Make a letter describing possessions and who you want to receive them. Be very specific.

There are also tasks for your own care while you are living, in case of incapacity:

  1. Name a person for the Power of Attorney role. They will be your representative for legal and financial matters, but only while you are living.
  2. Name a person for the Medical Power of Attorney to make decisions on your behalf, if you cannot.
  3. Create an Advance Directive, also known as a Living Will, to explain your wishes for medical care, particularly concerning end-of-life care.
  4. Discuss these roles and their responsibilities with the people you have chosen, and make sure they are willing to serve.

Be realistic about the people you are naming to receive your property. If you have a child who is not good with managing money, a trust can be set up to distribute assets according to your wishes: by age or accomplishments, like finishing college, going to rehab, or maintaining a steady work history.

Do not forget to tell family members where they can find your last will and other estate documents. You should also talk with them about your digital assets. If accounts are protected by passwords or facial recognition, find out if the digital platform has a process for your executor to legally obtain access to your digital assets.

Finally, do not neglect updating your estate plan every three to four years or anytime you have a major life event. An estate plan is like a house: it needs regular maintenance. Old estate plans can disinherit family members or lead to the wrong person being in charge of your estate. An experienced estate planning attorney will make the process easier and straightforward for you and your loved ones.

Reference: U.S. News & World Report (May 13, 2021) “10 Steps to Writing a Will”

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Does Your Executor Know What to Do?

Don't leave a mess for your executor clean up. There are ways to make your executor's job easier.
Don’t leave a mess for your executor clean up. There are ways to make your executor’s job easier.

Next Avenue’s recent article entitled “Is Your Estate as Planned As You Think?” explains that when you pass away your executor will have many tasks to perform when settling your estate.

It’s helpful to add clarity and lessen the burden of your executor’s work in advance. Look at this list of things to make sure your estate is as planned as you think it is:

Is your will current? If you’ve written your will, how long has it been since you drafted it? Have there been any major changes in your life since that time? If so, it’s likely time to update it. Review your will to make certain that it’s an accurate representation of your assets and your wishes now.

Is your will detailed? Yes, you’ve addressed the big stuff, but what about smaller items with sentimental value? You should list who gets what, to avoid fighting, especially if the executor is one of your beneficiaries.

Do you have a way to distribute your other personal items? You should determine how your family will divide up the possessions not explicitly listed in your will, such as the lawnmower, dishes and photographs. All of it will need to be either distributed by the executor to one of your beneficiaries, donated, or sold.

Are your financial affairs organized? Your executor will need to know if you have any recurring payments, as well as your account number, and online passwords. Create a list of regular monthly bills, along with your account numbers and access codes to simplify your executor’s job.

You will also need to let the executor know about any automatic deductions or charges on your credit card, internet-based subscriptions, club memberships, recurring charitable donations and automatic utility payments.

Making your wishes clear for your executor can help ensure that there’s less stress and an easy distribution of your assets.

Your estate planning attorney can help you address these issues to make things easier for your executor and your family. And while speaking with your estate planning attorney, ask about advance medical directives such as a medical power of attorney, a living will, a HIPAA waiver and whether you should have a trust.

For more information on wills see https://www.galliganmanning.com/understanding-why-a-will-is-important/.

Reference: Next Avenue (Feb. 25, 2020) “Is Your Estate as Planned As You Think?”

 

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COVID-19 UPDATE: You Need a Medical Power of Attorney Now

Due to the coronavirus, now more than ever it’s important to have a medical power of attorney naming agents to make medical decisions for you if you cannot.

If you have not yet named someone with Medical Power of Attorney,  get this crucial planning in place now.  As Claire Horner and I spoke about in this Facebook Live video, https://www.facebook.com/galligan.manning/videos/1442796115909715/, it is very important to create this document, now more than ever with the coronavirus, and it can be prepared quickly and easily.

What is a Medical Power of Attorney?

A medical power of attorney is a legal document you use to give someone else authority to make medical decisions for you when you can no longer make them yourself.  This person, also known as an agent, can only exercise this power if your doctor says you are unable to make key decisions yourself.

Other Terms for Medical Power of Attorney

Depending on the state where you live, the medical power of attorney may be called something else. You may have seen this referred to as a health care power of attorney, an advance directive, advance health care directive, a durable power of attorney for health care, etc. There are many variations, but they all mean fundamentally the same thing.  In some states, your preferences are worked into the document itself, such as your preferences for surgeries, pain treatment, religious preferences and so on.  Texas tends not to include wishes within the document, so it is very important to discuss your medical wishes and preferences with your agent.

Be aware that each state has their own laws about medical powers of attorney, so it’s important to work with a qualified estate planning attorney to ensure your decisions will be enforced through legally binding documents. Also, some states may not honor documents from other states (Texas often does this), so even if you made these decisions and created documents in another state, it’s wise to review with an estate attorney to ensure they are legally valid in your state now.  If there are any doubts, a new medical power of attorney can be prepared quickly.

What Can My Medical Agent Do for Me?

Some of the things a medical power of attorney authorizes your agent to decide for you:

  • Which doctors or facilities to work with and whether to change
  • Give consent for additional testing or treatment
  • How aggressively to treat
  • Give consent to surgeries, medications and so on

I won’t fully discuss it here as I wanted to focus on the most basic medical decision-making document, but there are other similar documents that are also very important, such as a living will which directs end-of-life decisions and a HIPAA release which will facilitate your agent receiving information to make these decisions.  See here for a fuller discussion of the other documents.  https://www.galliganmanning.com/making-end-of-life-decisions-part-of-your-estate-plan/

We are ready to help walk you through these decisions and prepare a medical power of attorney naming the agent who you trust to make these decisions for you. We are currently offering no-contact initial conferences remotely if you prefer and can arrange for remote document signings. Contact our office today and let us help you make the right choices for yourself and your loved ones.

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