Simple, essential steps for putting your affairs in order
The steady drone of coronavirus news this year has spurred countless older Americans to face a long-procrastinated task: writing — or rewriting — their wills. A 2016 Gallup poll found that more than 30 percent of people 65 and older and more than 40 percent of people ages 50 through 64, do not have a will. The main reasons people stall, according to Caring.com? Most say they haven't gotten around to it, or they don't have enough assets to leave to anyone.
Bottom line, everyone should have a Will, and as gruesome as it sounds, right now everyone should be thinking about what level of medical care or intervention they would want should they become incapacitated. The older and more vulnerable you are, the more important it becomes to let your loved ones know what your wishes are.
Some essential things to know about end-of-life planning, circa 2020:
You need more than a Will. A Will directs what happens after a person dies and makes life simpler for heirs, often saving families thousands in unnecessary probate fees, but two other documents are just as important. One is a health care directive, sometimes called a living will, which appoints someone of your choice to make medical decisions for you if you're unable, and which outlines the medical care you do or don't want. The other document is a durable power of attorney, which appoints someone to make financial decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated.
"It's so important to look at the lifetime side of estate planning and think about the hazards of living a long life,” says Charlie Sabatino, director of the American Bar Association's Commission on Law and Aging. Attorneys typically pull together all three.
These documents require hard conversations. Another reason people often delay is that “they worry talking about death will upset their spouse and family,” says Al Cutturini, director of the Elder Law Project for North Mississippi Rural Legal Services. “But that's not true. While it can be uncomfortable, knowing a parent's wishes about everything from medical care to funeral plans is very reassuring,” he says. “It gives families an enormous sense of relief when they know what to expect."
You can write a Will any time, even if you're sick. Hospitals aren't the ideal place to make a Will, but it's better than not doing it at all. It is valid the minute it is signed.
Many people still feel that they should name the oldest child — maybe even the oldest male child — as executor of the Will and the agent to oversee their health care and money. Which can often be a recipe for disaster, says Gary Bauer, professor emeritus at Cooley Law School at Western Michigan University. “Select your agents based upon their ability to manage your affairs, not birth order,” he says. “Who is the most organized and responsible? Who lives closest? Is there a natural leader most likely to handle any conflict that arises later? And don't be afraid to split duties. Someone making end-of-life decisions has a very different role than someone distributing property after someone has passed,” he says.
Either treat all children the same or prepare for blowback. Leaving more to one child or leaving one out entirely, guarantees dissent and challenges later. Feelings can be hurt and balloon into legal hearings. If you an imbalance is necessary, talk that decision out with your children now, to avoid legal action later. Additionally, stepchildren are not automatically treated as children for legal purposes. For them to share in an inheritance, they must be specifically named.
No Will is just one and done. Major life events, such as a move to a new state, or if a beneficiary or becomes ill, disabled, or dies, the Will need to be revised. We recommend reviewing your Will every 5 years, or if any life changes occur.
If you know anyone who may need these services or have a loved one who is ill and may need advice, we want you to know we are here to help! Bob is working with clients every day as they navigate these challenging times, and he highly recommends you reach out.
Having a strong estate plan in place will help you know that your retirement will be protected, regardless of what life brings!
For more information on Wills we recommend reading our blog under the category of Wills, HERE.
Or schedule a FREE consultation with Bob today HERE.
Bob Michaels is extremely passionate about providing the best possible legal experience for his clients, and focuses his practice on elder law, estate planning, business, and real estate matters. Bob has been able to provide piece of mind and a solid foundation to many folks in the Puget Sound area over the years and wants to provide resources and relevant information whenever he can.
Check out some of these other important posts, such as:
The Top 5 Documents Everyone Should Have!
Coronavirus Legal Planning
Coronavirus Living Wills and Health Proxies
The Problem with Do-It-Yourself-Wills