I was speaking with a wonderful group of families at one of our educational events recently on avoiding probate, avoiding unnecessary costs and estate settlement costs, and protecting your assets from the nursing home, and I met a wonderful family. This family had a very common question. They asked that for the short term, what documents do we need to have in place immediately! They continued, what type of estate planning documents are not an option?
There are really four estate planning documents that are not an option and that every family should have in place. The first document is a Last Will and Testament, commonly referred to as a will. This document will ensure that your assets will be distributed to your loved ones in accordance with your wishes. Failure to have a valid will in place will ensure that your assets pass according to Tennessee law and not according to your wishes. Although, only having a will is likely to result in a long, expensive, and government intrusive probate court process, it is better than having nothing! Everyone should have at least a will in place.
In addition, every person, regardless of age and wealth, should have a customized set of disability legal documents. This would include a power of attorney, one for healthcare matters and one for financial matters. This would ensure that a trusted family member (perhaps a spouse or an adult child) would make decisions for you such as speaking with doctors, accessing bank accounts, accessing medical records, authorizing the performance of medical procedures, in the event that you become incapacitated and are unable to make your own financial or medical decisions. These power of attorney documents prevent your loved ones going through a guardianship or conservatorship proceeding, having a judge declare you incompetent and then name a person over you to make your decisions on your behalf when you are no longer capable to do so. A proceeding that is worse than probate!
The final basic estate planning document that every family needs to have in place, regardless of age or wealth, is a living will declaration. This document simply states your wishes when it comes to the withdraw and withholding of life support systems and machines. Without a living will document, your family would not know what your wishes are regarding the withdrawal of life support machines and you could end up in a hospital and hooked up to life support machines for months or even years.
Although, these are the basic estate planning documents that every family needs, an estate plan is not complete by just stopping with the basic documents! Every family should consider and seek out the advice of a competent and experienced estate planning attorney regarding setting up a revocable living trust in order to avoid probate, or even engaging in Medicaid planning in order to protect your assets from nursing home spend down.
If you have questions or concerns about estate planning, then please contact our office for a complimentary visit and planning session so that we can discuss your estate planning needs in further detail.
We look forward to hearing from you!