ESSENTIAL ESTATE PLANNING DOCUMENTS
All around us, life continues to be disrupted. We are indeed living in strange times. At Intercontinental, we continue to follow safety guidelines and are learning to successfully manage the changes to how we live, conduct business and retain our close relationships with our clients.
Our investment team is vigilantly watching the markets and analyzing the impact of news and changing circumstances. As advisors, we maintain our regular contact with individual clients, and are always available to answer questions, address concerns and offer our counsel to help you feel more comfortable in the current environment.
With that in mind, we’d like to share some information about important documents that we all should have as part of our estate planning.
ESTATE PLANNING DOCUMENTS
We’ve all found ourselves in a world that none of us could have imagined at the beginning of 2020. No need to describe it – we’re all living it. People’s ways of dealing with the current situation and the accompanying stress vary tremendously, but the risk of becoming sick is something everyone faces. There are certainly things that all of us can do to try to control the situation – hand washing, social distancing, wearing masks, and for the higher risk demographic (age, underlying conditions), continuing to stay home.
But there are other things we can control, including our estate planning. Without having the necessary documents in place, we could put ourselves and our families at serious financial and medical risk.
Imagine a scenario where you suddenly find yourself sick in the hospital, incapacitated, and no longer able to pay your own bills, manage your assets, or even make your own medical decisions. With the outbreak of Coronavirus (COVID-19), this scenario is a growing concern, and a growing reality for many, unfortunately.
If you were to become incapacitated without the proper Estate Planning documents in place, you and your family could be at serious financial and medical risk. Common issues include:
- No ability for your family to make medical decisions on your behalf if you are unable to
- Family stress about what decisions to make if you haven’t documented your wishes
- Inability to access your bank accounts to pay bills
- No legal authority to write checks on your behalf from your accounts
- No ability for a life partner to whom you are not married to step in as your representative
None of us want to find ourselves in these situations. So now would be a good time to ensure against them.
Healthcare Power of Attorney
In addition to being in a pandemic world, other tragic events can happen out of nowhere, so it’s important to plan for such scenarios in advance. A Healthcare Power of Attorney, also known as Medical Power of Attorney, is a crucial document that authorizes someone you trust, your Patient Advocate, to make medical decisions on your behalf in case an emergency leaves you incapacitated and unable to communicate your own decisions.
It’s usually best to pair a Medical Power of Attorney with a Living Will – together they are sometimes referred to as an Advance Directive. While your Healthcare Power of Attorney appoints someone to legally act on your behalf, your Living Will outlines your actual wishes for them to follow with respect to your medical care, including the types of medical treatment you would or would not want in certain situations.
The assertions made in this type of Will include whether you would like CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation), artificial nutrition and hydration (tube feeding, IV), maximum pain relief, artificial respiration, or to donate organs. This helps your Patient Advocate make medical decisions for you and eliminates any confusion about certain treatments that you would or would not have wanted. This document can be a big stress reliever for your family so they don’t feel guilty making difficult medical decisions.
Durable Financial Power of Attorney
If you suddenly become seriously ill and incapacitated, who will do things like:
- Pay your mortgage and other bills
- File your taxes
- Move money among your various accounts as needed (for either you or the family you support)
- Apply for benefits on your behalf
Being prepared with a Durable Financial Power of Attorney can alleviate some of the financial stressors and prevent your family from having to go to court to get permission to access and manage your finances. This is an important consideration, especially today with the courts operating at limited capacity.
When you create a Financial Power of Attorney, you assign an agent who can act legally on your behalf to do the following:
- Sign your checks
- Make deposits
- Pay your bills
- Contract for medical or other professional services
- Sell your property
- Buy insurance for you
If you’re a single parent and have young children at home, who would take care of your kids if you became ill and had to stay in the hospital for a long stretch? If you’re married, what if you and your spouse both became incapacitated, who would take care of your kids? If you have children under the age of 18, it’s very important to have a Guardianship in place to make sure someone you trust is legally appointed to take care of your kids if you’re no longer able to care for them yourself.
Revocable Living Trust
A Revocable Living Trust is one of the most important documents to consider creating as the cornerstone of your estate plan. Similar to a Last Will and Testament, a Living Trust allows you to pass your money, property, and assets on to your loved ones in the event you pass away.
However, a Living Trust has significant advantages over a Will, including the ability to plan for situations where you become incapacitated and can’t make decisions on your own. That’s because a Living Trust becomes effective the moment it’s signed while you’re still living, whereas a Will only takes effect AFTER you pass away.
Some of the Benefits of a Living Trust include:
- Assign a person you trust to act as your trustee to manage the financial well-being of all of the assets in your trust in case you become incapacitated.
- Preserve your legacy by naming all of your beneficiaries that you want to receive your money, property, and assets after you pass away.
- Transfer your assets to your loved ones in the most efficient way possible by avoiding the long, expensive, and stressful probate court process if you do not have a will.
- Avoid costly estate taxes depending on the size of your estate.
- Maintain flexibility within your estate plan. A Revocable Living Trust can be changed or revoked at any time while you are still living which gives you the ability to easily modify your estate plan if your situation changes in the future.
- Keep control of your finances after you pass away to ensure that your beneficiaries achieve a specific milestone or reach a certain age before receiving their inheritance.
- Ensure your financial matters and the transfer of your assets to your beneficiaries remain private to protect your family and your estate from unscrupulous creditors and family members.
If you have questions about any of these issues, please let us know. While we are typically proactive in helping clients prepare these documents, we recognize that you may have questions, want to make changes to existing documents, or simply want to take care of things you may have put off.
Wishing you good health,
Vice President, Insurance Services at Intercontinental Wealth Advisors