Conflict and arguing within the family is the last thing anyone wants to have happen. Unfortunately, many people fail to have the proper estate planning documents so at the time of serious illness or death there is uncertainty, which creates discourse and strife from which some families never recover.
Below is a review of the documents you may need to be sure your desires are clear and legal, hence minimizing conflicts and confusion in your family.
The Advanced Health Care Directive is a specific form that lists your healthcare preferences to be used only at a time when you cannot communicate your wishes. It puts your family, doctors and hospitals on notice as to the types of treatments/tests/care you would or would not want. It also lists those empowered to make health care decisions on your behalf should you not be able to express your desires. Everyone over the age of 18 should have this form completed.
The office of the Attorney General of California has excellent information on this topic including a sample form and may be viewed @ www.ag.ca.gov/consumers/general/adv_hc_dir.htm
Power of Attorney for Asset Management appoints those that you trust to handle your financial affairs. The form also lists those areas in which you allow the individual to assist you. Having completed this form can be very important in avoiding conservatorship should you become incapacitated. An immediate or durable power of attorney allows your agent to immediately act on your behalf. A springy power-of-attorney goes into effect only when you are incapacitated. It would be important to talk to your attorney and make sure you receive the form that is most appropriate for your situation.
HIPAA Release Form. Several years ago the federal government passed a law to help protect our health care information. In doing so, it made it more difficult for our family members or trusted individuals to deal with health insurance matters at a time of our incapacitation. By having this special form completed ahead of time you allow those individuals named in your advanced health care directive and or power of attorney for asset management to have access to healthcare information to deal with insurance matters on your behalf at a time when you cannot do so.
A Will is the method that many people use to transfer their assets upon their death. These are relatively inexpensive to acquire but in most cases will result in probate which can be time-consuming and expensive. For many people who own real estate or have more than just modest assets, may be better served by having a Living Trust. Even those individuals having a living trust still need a will.
A Living Trust is the preferred method of transferring assets upon death for many people. When assets are transferred via the trust there is more confidentiality, less cost, more flexibility with distribution, faster distribution and your wishes are less likely to be contested than with a “probated will”. For those with a lot of wealth, the trust might also provide some estate tax benefits. The downside to the trust is that they are a little bit more expensive to create and maintain.
If you have the trust, is important to make sure that trust is properly funded. All real estate should be transferred to the trust as well as savings accounts, mutual funds and other investments. Assigning your personal property to the trust and having the proper document allows the trustee to distribute your personal property those that you list thus helping to avoid conflicts within the family when you’re gone.
You should always consult with an attorney who specializes in estate planning to make sure you have the correct estate planning documents for your situation. Do not rely on the Internet or from the sale of products such as from Suze Orman to create your own trust document.
Do yourself and your family a favor and make sure you have the proper estate planning documents now thus avoiding the family issues that can be caused by your lack of planning.
This article is for informational purposes and should not be taken as legal, tax or investment advice.