Planning for the future, after you are gone, is hard and can be unpleasant. People rationalize putting off estate planning by thinking “I’m going to live forever” or, “I’m healthy, it won’t happen to me”, or “I don’t want to think about it”. The problem is, you never know and can’t predict when an accident will happen or possible serious illness will strike. Speaking with an experienced North Shore attorney about estate planning can put your mind at ease and help you understand your options.
Whether you are single, living with a significant other, newly married, or have been married for 30+ years or have a blended family, estate planning is important. A basic Estate Plan may include a Will, Health Care Proxy, Living Will and perhaps also a Power of Attorney and a Trust, depending upon your circumstances.
As we mature and take on more adult responsibilities, have relationships, start families, try hang gliding (ha!), it makes sense to think through what happens to your stuff if the unexpected occurs. Preparing an Estate Plan can also help if you are seriously injured in a car accident.
What if you were driving towards Boston on Route 1 South in Danvers and had an accident and were unconscious? Who should make medical decisions for you? Who gives the Doctor or hospital authority to treat you? An Estate Plan can address these and similar issues.
A Will expresses your wishes upon your demise. A Massachusetts Will appoints a Personal Representative to serve as Executor or Executrix of your estate. This person carries out your wishes to make sure your property goes as you instruct. Your Will describes who gets your personal property, real property (e.g. your house or vacation home), any remaining assets (other stuff you own), who will be the legal guardian of any minor children and it can even make sure your pet is taken care of. It is important to discuss your goals with an estate planning attorney who can prepare the proper Estate plan documents.
Health Care Proxy
A Health Care Proxy is a document delegating to an agent the authority to make healthcare decisions for you, if you can’t do it yourself. It’s a good idea to plan ahead and not wait until you are sick or injured in an accident to get this done. You can also give a copy of the Health Care Proxy to your doctor for your records.
Power of Attorney
A Durable Power of Attorney allows someone else to act in your name. That person can sign for you in your name on documents like deeds and other real estate documents, checking accounts or contracts. Having a power of attorney allows someone to keep your business or personal obligations moving ahead, if you are incapacitated. But it can be a powerful tool held by your attorney-in-fact. Only give it to someone you trust.
A Living Will states your intention in the situation that you are only being kept alive by artificial machines and can’t live or be conscious on your own, with no reasonable chance of recovery. According to the Massachusetts Medical Society, Massachusetts does not formally recognize Living Wills. However, most medical providers will honor them as a clear directive of your wishes regarding use of or the withholding of artificial life sustaining treatment.
A Trust may be a useful tool in Estate planning for tax purposes or to protect assets for youngsters or others, until they are ready to handle the money themselves. You might even set up a Trust to care for a beloved pet, (see Trust for Care of an Animal).
Estate planning can seem arduous or unpleasant. But planning for the future and knowing that your estate is in good, trustworthy hands can be reassuring.