When we help clients with “estate planning’ we also discuss planning for events while they are still living. Many of us have ideas about what to do with our legacy or estate, once we are dead. We might have family or friends or charities in mind–people or organizations who would take after our death because of provisions in our will or trust, or even because we have simply named the person or organization as a beneficiary after our death on an account at a bank or credit union or IRA.
But what would happen if we became quite disabled before we died? Is there a way we can sort of “take control” even though we are disabled? Some advocates say yes, if you work hard at it. But even more folks say, the time to “take control” is before you lose control–in other words, line up your choices and make some decisions AND PUT THEM IN WRITING, before you ever become severely disabled.
Have you thought about naming someone/something who could help with your financial and business affairs (sometimes this might even include a financial institution if your holdings are large or sophisticated) while you are living?
How about your medical affairs? Who have you picked to speak for you, should you be so disabled that doctors don’t think you understand what is going on, and medical treatment decisions (starting or switching or stopping treatments, for instance) are needed? In Michigan parents DO NOT automatically get to speak for their young adult children such as the 19-year-old still in college or trade school, nor–a surprise to many–is a spouse legally allowed to decide for a spouse without documents in place or a court order.
The law in Michigan, through Michigan’s statutes, gives a preference for these issues to next-of-kin BUT that preference arises when we haven’t made the decision in advance, and put it in writing. Without a bit of planning and work court involvement might be needed–a hassle and expense in a time of crisis or mourning that you can usually avoid by getting documents set up ahead of time.
For the times when we might be alive but not able to handle our own affairs, the usual documents needed are a durable power of attorney (the business and financial affairs of life) and a medical power of attorney/designation of patient advocate (medical decision making when we are alive but incompetent). Sometimes a trust can help as well–in the financial/business arena.
When we are dead, the most common document to come in handy is a will (or a trust, or both) and one can also have a personal property distribution list, and a funeral representative named if you so desire.
As a recent article in the New York Times indicates, we should not always assume that “next-of-kin” are the natural choice after all–estrangement among family members is not uncommon. And even among families who have been keenly supportive of one another, not all our relatives are equally able to step into our shoes while we are living, nor be smart choices to wrap up our affairs once we die.
Our firm takes the time to talk through some of these issues with you for better planning and to help create documents that will be helpful and not merely perfunctory. We have created a sort of estate and life planning questionnaire that we can send to folks before they meet with us, so that our meetings then are productive and informative, and in order that we can eventually create a tailored estate plan at a still reasonable cost. Give us a call soon if you’d like to create or update your life and estate planning.
As to the New York Times article, you can find it here: https://mobile.nytimes.com/…/debunking-myths-about-estrange…