So often we are asked, why do I need to have a Will? Or a Power of Attorney? Or a Community Property Agreement? Everything passes to my spouse or children anyway, right? And if so, why do we need do life and estate planning anyway?
The reason we plan is so that we will have in place the legal documents that will work the way they are supposed to, and most importantly, when we need them to. And when is that? When you or a loved one find yourself in a pickle and need them the most. A spouse has a stroke and you need to access funds for a rehab facility deposit that are only in your spouse’s name. You need to speak with Mom’s pharmacist about her ‘meds’ but the pharmacist refuses unless you can show you have the authority or right to do so. The examples go on and on.
There are five (5) basic documents we all need regardless of whether we have little or are millionaires.
Those Five Documents Are:
Keep in mind not all documents are created equal. Words matter a lot in these. Work with someone who knows what they are doing when preparing these documents for you and your family. After all, the purpose is to have documents that will work for you regardless of the situation. If you don’t have them, things can get messy very fast.
Which of these documents is the most important when we are alive?
Without hesitation the Durable General Power of Attorney and Health Care Power of Attorney. These documents empower someone to act for you legally as if they were you. We all need someone to be empowered on our behalf, because at some point we may find ourselves unable to speak or act for ourselves. Unfortunately, many things are still very unequal. Wives needing to act on behalf of their husband are still told, “I’m sorry but the account is in your husband’s name and we can only speak with him.” Frustrating. A Durable General Power of Attorney eliminates this problem. It’s also important to note that words matter on this document, so we highly recommend utilizing a professional to assist you in putting it together. If what you are trying to do for someone through that person’s Power of Attorney is not clearly spelled out in the document, you basically, “do not have the power to act.”
What about a Last Will and Testament?
Yes, an important document to have—when we die. This document will name who will administer your “estate.” This document will provide the person acting for your estate to do so without posting a bond or intervention of the court. Your Will provides who gets what (or who does not get anything). Your Will should identify whether you wish to be buried/cremated and whether your organs can be donated. Without a Will, you leave a mess that may have to be cleaned up through the Courts. Remember a Will does not transfer anything, it is only a set of instructions as to what happens when you pass.
Why have a Community Property Agreement if you are married?
The simple answer is that property of a marriage does not automatically transfer to the surviving spouse upon the first spouse’s death. Even though Washington is one of eight Community Property states, it is still possible for a person in Washington to have separate property. So, to eliminate a legal process known as “probate” should the one spouse die, get a Community Property Agreement which will, by law, vest all property to the surviving spouse without Court intervention.
Finally, if you have ever had surgery or been admitted to a hospital, you know what a Living Will or Health Care Directive is. Hospitals/doctors want to know your wishes should you become permanently unconscious or in a persistent vegetative state. This is an “end of life” document that applies to specific circumstance while being cared for. Additional end of life planning with “POLST” or “DNR” should also be undertaken.
At Tacoma Elder Care we understand the importance of having your affairs in order. Life has a way of throwing curve balls at us when we least expect it.
Here at Tacoma Elder Care we always say, Leave a Plan. Not a Mess!”
Contact us today to set up your Free Consultation, so we can help you prepare you five basic documents – and answer any other questions you may have. We are Elder Care experts, and we’re here for you and your loved ones.