Everyone Needs an Estate Plan (Example 1)
Estate planning is much more than just death planning and giving away your stuff after you die. It’s really about choosing decision makers for those moments when you cannot make your own decisions. Sure, you cannot make your own decisions after you have died. But there are several other times when you can end up incapacitated (meaning, you cannot legally make your own decisions) and yet still be very much alive. Without proper planning, you may leave your loved ones stuck in a tough place if you ever become incapacitated.
Over the next few weeks, we're going to walk through a few examples.
Example 1: Imagine that you and your spouse have decided to take your young kids skiing. As you’re taking photos of the little ones having a blast, you don’t realize that you’re headed right for a tree. Before you know it, you collide with the tree, you’re out cold, and you’re rushed to the hospital.
The good news is that you’re still alive. The bad news is that you’re now incapacitated. You’re unable to make your own medical and financial decisions. This could last for hours (medication), days (coma), or a lifetime (permanent brain damage). It’s now up to someone else to make those decisions for you.
Your spouse decides that he or she is going to step in and make decisions for you, including handling your finances, dealing with the insurance company, dealing with your boss, and maybe suing the ski resort. Unfortunately, you didn’t do any estate planning, so your spouse now has to go to court and have a judge issue an order that allows your spouse to make those decisions for you. This is the key: Your spouse can’t do any of the above without the appropriate authority.
You see, just because you’re married doesn’t give your spouse the legal authority to make decisions on your behalf. You have to give your spouse (or someone else) that power before you become incapacitated. This is commonly done in a power of attorney.
The same principle applies if you have children over the age of 18. Unless your child has given you the legal authority to make decisions on his or her behalf (for example, via a power of attorney), you need a court order to have that legal authority. And getting a court order when your child or loved one is incapacitated can be stressful and overwhelming, not to mention expensive. This is why it’s important to plan ahead.
Check back next week for another example of why everyone needs an estate plan. If you would like a free one-hour consultation to discuss your estate planning goals, do not hesitate to contact us.