by Myka Landry
An estate plan helps prepare you and your loved ones in the event of death or incapacity. While many people put off estate planning because they believe they have plenty of time to do it, the following real-life events demonstrate how circumstances can change dramatically.
A father was killed in an auto accident. Two of his children were in the car and transported to the hospital in critical condition. In the event that the children’s mother was unavailable or if she had also died in the accident, who would take care of the children? Who would make medical decisions for them? Who would handle the finances to make sure their needs were met? This is clearly an instance in which a young, healthy individual was going about his day and, in one split second, he was killed and his children’s lives were changed forever.
Also consider the case of former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. She was shot in the head while conducting a public forum. Fortunately, she is doing very well, but she was incapacitated for some time and could have remained incapacitated for the rest of her life. Had she and her husband discussed medical treatment in case of an emergency? If she had been in a vegetative state, would he have known how long she wanted to be kept alive hoping for a miracle? Even if he did know, would other relatives agree or would there be a lengthy court battle while her assets were being depleted by medical treatment she may not have wanted? Had she died, what would happen to her assets? Who would be responsible for distributing them?
These are the kinds of questions that an estate plan can answer. An estate plan allows you to evaluate what you have, who you want to get it, how you want medical decisions to be handled and by whom, and who will take care of any minor children. More importantly, it allows you to communicate your wishes and desires to your loved ones so if something terrible happens, your loved ones will have your guidance in making decisions. An estate plan also allows you to coordinate your beneficiary designations, retirement benefits, investments and other assets in the event you are unable to take care of yourself. It is one of the most important gifts you can give your loved ones.
This is just a brief overview of some of the issues an estate plan can resolve. A plan can accomplish other goals as well, such as minimizing estate taxes and planning for long-term care. Your situation and desires will determine the elements that are included in your plan.
Whether you are simply reviewing your estate plan or wish to create one, please contact a qualified estate planning attorney to determine your goals and ensure that your plan meets them.