Question: I am single and have no estate planning documents in place. Do I need to consult an attorney now or is it too early?
Answer: The best time to execute your estate planning documents is before you need those documents. Any person over the age of eighteen should have certain documents in place. You want to ensure that those you give authority to make your health care decisions or to manage your financial affairs are individuals you trust to carry out your wishes and that they will make decisions in your best interest. The best way for them to do that is by you letting them know your wishes. At a minimum we suggest all clients have the following in place: Health Care Proxy, Living Will, Power of Attorney and Last Will and Testament.
The Health Care Proxy identifies who you authorize to make medical decisions for you in the event you are unable to make those decisions for yourself due to incapacity. The Living Will expresses your wishes with respect to end of life decision making. This document can direct that certain treatments be stopped if they are only serving to prolong your life where there is no reasonable expectation of recovery the living will also makes clear your desire to be administered pain medication even if administration of same could hasten your death. A Power of Attorney authorizes the person you appoint, your agent, to handle all business and financial decisions as if they were you - including but not limited to banking transactions, real estate matters, and any other instance where finances are involved. Without these documents, no one would have the authority to act on your behalf in the event you become incapacitated. By executing these documents, you give power to those you trust to make decisions for you, eliminating the need for the Court to appoint a guardian to make those decisions for you.
A Last Will and Testament will determine how your estate is administered at the time of your death. In its basic form, a Will outlines who you want to nominate to administer your estate when you die and who you want to inherit your assets. If there is no Last Will and Testament in place, your estate will be distributed according to the rules of intestacy, which may differ from your desires. If you have minors that you wish to inherit from you, it is imperative to set up a Trust that will manage the inheritance for the benefit of the minor until the age of eighteen or the age at which you want them to receive the gift. Children under the age of eighteen are considered unable to manage their own finances, so creating a Trust will protect the inheritance you want to leave them. The Trust, created through your Will, would nominate a Trustee to control the assets until the beneficiary is eighteen or the age you designate.
Executing these documents is an important and complex part of estate planning and safeguarding your final wishes. You should consult an attorney that specializes in estate planning to execute these documents, as well as periodically review them with your attorney to guarantee your wishes have not changed.
- Nancy Burner, Esq. and Robin Burner Daleo, Esq.