The Most Important Plan You’ll Ever Make
You probably like to plan things.
Vacations, parties, maybe even your daily schedule. A plan helps you keep things in order and not miss anything important.
But there’s something huge in your life that you probably haven’t planned for:
What will happen if you die or become disabled?
If you haven’t planned for this, you’re not alone. According to a recent survey, only 46% of Americans have the most basic plans in place for these eventualities.
It’s easy to understand why. This isn’t a “fun” thing to plan for…like a trip or a party. But it may be the most important thing you’ll ever plan for.
Why Do You Need to Plan for Death or Disability?
Death (and taxes) are inevitable, as the saying goes. And if you die without a will (the legal term is “intestate”), guess who decides how your assets will be distributed?
And though they may have the best intentions, the court won’t know your wishes or your heir’s needs.
You may have promised to pay for your niece’s college tuition or to help start your son’s business. Or, that you had already given your daughter money to buy a house, so your other children should get the same level of help from your estate.
Not to mention wrapping up all of the legal and financial loose ends from your life.
Without a will, and the other documents I’ll talk about shortly, you’ll be handing your loved ones a legal mess that could take months or years to unravel in the courts.
The same things apply if you become disabled and can’t conduct your own affairs.
If you don’t have a plan in place, your family could be forced to spend considerable time and money just to get the legal authority to act in your name.
What You Need to Do
Your plan will need to include these legal documents:
- Will (and trusts if necessary)
- Financial power of attorney
- Medical power of attorney
- Medical information release (HIPAA release)
- Advance medical directive (also known as a living will)
Your estate-planning attorney (don’t try to do this yourself!) will help you take some initial steps:
- Make an inventory of your assetsThis should include everything from your house or other property to investments, bank accounts, and insurance policies.Don’t forget your digital assets like automatic payments, online banking apps and investment accounts.
Be thorough. An omission here can cause a legal nightmare for whoever is responsible for your estate. And speaking of that…
- Pick your teamEach of the documents in your plan will have someone responsible to carry it out. This includes:Executor: the person who administers your will, distributes your assets, files taxes for your estate and takes care of any creditors.
Agent (or “attorney in fact”): someone authorized to handle your business and financial affairs if you are not able to.
Health care agent (or “Health care proxy”): the person designated to speak to doctors on your behalf and make sure the instructions in your living will are followed.
Digital account manager: a person who is authorized to access your online accounts (and has the login IDs and passwords).
These can be family members, friends or professionals (like your attorney). They need to be people you can trust to follow your wishes.
- Have your attorney draft the documents. You will need to sign them, and they will need to be notarized.
- Update your estate documents regularly. At a minimum, every 3-5 years or any time you have a significant life event (birth, death, new job, buy or sell property, etc.)
A proper estate plan will give you and your loved one’s peace of mind. You’ll know your wishes will be respected, and your friends and family will be spared unnecessary stress and expense.
Remember…you can’t predict the future, but you can protect your legacy and your family.