People often ask: “Do I even need an estate plan?” The very simple answer is yes. The importance of having an estate plan is not limited to the amount of assets a person owns, or the size of their “estate”; each person has a very specific set of circumstances which lead to the creation of a unique plan suited to an individual or family’s needs.
A Last Will and Testament serves as the guideline for the distribution your estate at the time of your death, but it can also nominate guardians for your minor children. By choosing not to have an estate plan, distribution of an estate must follow a predetermined order, established by State statute, which may be in direct conflict with a person’s ultimate plan. These very important and personal decisions will ultimately be left to a family member or close friend, which creates additional stress and emotional turmoil. Similarly, if a death creates the necessity for a guardian, either for minor children or incapacitated adults, failing to nominate a successor guardian can create conflict within the family in deciding who should fill that role.
Another document contained in an estate plan is the Durable Power of Attorney, which nominates agents to work on behalf of a person who has become incapacitated, for financial purposes. This nomination allows for the agent to step into the incapacitated person’s shoes to make decisions on their behalf to maintain a household, pay bills, and manage general finances. A Health Care Power of Attorney allows a nominated agent to make medical care decisions on behalf of an incapacitated person, including providing consent for surgery or medication, as well as withholding consent for the same. A Living Will outlines the extent or limitation of end of life medical care a person would like, and allows a person to make this decision themselves in the event they are unable to voice their choice. A Final Disposition provides surviving loved ones with direction for whether a person had a preference of cremation or burial, and gives an idea of what memorial or funeral should include, or not include.