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In most cases, people don’t want to think about their own death, so they avoid the subject. However, since they don’t want to discuss it, they don’t make plans for what they want to happen after they die.
More than half of Americans think that end-of-life planning, or estate planning, is at least somewhat important. However, only about one-third of us have a plan in place. Many people believe they don’t need to bother with an estate plan because they think they don’t have enough assets. This plays into the common misconception that you must have a large estate to have an estate plan. Whatever you own, no matter how much or how little, is your estate.
In addition to determining what should happen to your assets, estate planning involves what you want to happen to your body after you are deceased as well as which medical treatments you want or don’t want near the end of your life. Our health-care system is geared toward keeping people alive for as long as possible. Many people, however, don’t want to be kept alive artificially if they are terminally ill. This is one of the decisions you should make in advance so your loved ones won’t have to guess what you want or the state dictates what will happen to you.
Creating a thorough and legally sound end-of-life plan ensures that you will get the medical treatment you want and that your assets will be distributed how you want them to be distributed. Spelling out all your wishes ahead of time will make your end-of-life process much easier for your loved ones by saving them time, money, and energy during the difficult time leading up to and following your passing.
Not only can end-of-life planning be uncomfortable to talk about, but it can also seem daunting to tackle. Fortunately, as with many things in life, the process becomes more manageable when broken down into sections. Here are some things to do to prepare for your estate plan process.
Make Health-Care Decisions
Take same time to think about which medical treatments you want and don’t want if the occasion for them should arise. Do you want to be kept alive artificially for as long as possible? Would you prefer to not be kept alive if treatments for a terminal illness or injury are ineffective? Where would you prefer to spend the last weeks or days of your life? In a hospital? In your home?
These are questions your loved ones should know the answers to in case you become unable to communicate with them. By completing a living will, you can put these wishes in writing and make them official.
Choose a Health-Care Agent
Choosing a health-care agent, and back-up agents, is an important part of the end-of-life planning process. Choose someone who knows you and is familiar with your values and health-care wishes. Make sure the person is the type of person who will carry out your wishes regardless of what others in the family may say.
Choose a Financial Agent
In addition to choosing an agent to make health-care decisions on your behalf you can also choose an agent to make financial decisions on your behalf. These agents can be the same person or different people. Think about who in your life will be able to make decisions that are most aligned with your values.
Pick an Executor
Asking someone to be the executor, also known as a personal representative, of your estate can be a big thing to ask. They will need to petition a probate court to assign them the role of executor. Then they will need to conduct an inventory of your estate, pay bills, taxes, and debts, and then distribute the remaining assets to your heirs.
Think of who would be good for this task. You will want someone who is detail oriented and can follow through with things. Make sure you ask the person if they are willing to be your executor.
Pick a Guardian
If you have minor children, you can name a guardian, or guardians, for them in your will. Give this decision adequate thought since your children’s guardian will be responsible for their health care and education.
Make an inventory
Make an inventory of all your assets that have financial or sentimental value and note who should get which assets. Be as thorough and precise as possible to lessen the chances of family members squabbling over your things after you have passed. Sometimes these lists are incorporated into a will, sometimes they are a separate list.
In the view of the law, pets are considered property. Determine whom your pets should go to after you are gone and put that in your will. Your digital accounts are also considered part of your property. Keep a list of your accounts with usernames and passwords in a secure place and let your executor know where the list is.
Finally, write down any wishes you have for arrangements after you die. Decide what you want to happen to your body after you are deceased. If you want your body cremated, specify what you want to happen to the ashes. Decide what type of funeral service you want. Some people give specific instructions, others largely leave it up to their surviving loved ones.
Now Is the Best Time to Start
It is never too early in your adult life to start putting together your estate plan. Make life easier for your loved ones by starting the process today. An experienced estate planning attorney can guide you through the process.
This article offers a summary of aspects of estate planning and elder law. It is not legal advice and it does not create an attorney-client relationship. If you have questions or would like to discuss your legal matters, please contact us at 989-495-2555.