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The topic of death is uncomfortable for most of us and we avoid it as much as possible. Since we don’t want to talk about it, many of us don’t make plans for what we want to happen before or after we pass away.
More than half of Americans think that end-of-life planning, or estate planning, is at least somewhat important. However, only about a 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. It’s a common misconception that you must have a large estate to have an estate plan. However, what you own, no matter how much or how little, is your estate and can be preserved and passed to loved ones.
In addition to determining what should happen to your assets, estate planning and elder law involve 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. However, many people 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 let the state dictate what happens to you.
Creating a thorough and legally sound end-of-life plan ensures that you’ll get the medical treatment you want and that your assets will be distributed according to your instructions. Spelling out all your wishes ahead of time makes your end-of-life process much easier for your loved ones by saving time and money while relieving emotional stress 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 some time to think about which medical treatments you want and don’t want in specific situations. Do you want to be kept alive artificially for as long as possible? Would you prefer not to 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?
Your loved ones should know the answers to these questions in case you can’t communicate. 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 backup 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 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. 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 or 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. Then they must inventory your estate, pay bills, taxes, and debts, and distribute the remaining assets to your heirs. Choose 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 first.
Pick a Guardian
If you have minor children, you can name a guardian 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, and sometimes they’re separate.
By law, pets are considered property. Determine who should care for your pets if you are incapacitated and after you are gone. 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 tell your executor where to find it.
Finally, write down any wishes you have for arrangements after you die. Decide what you want to happen to your body after you’re 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, while others largely leave it up to their surviving loved ones.
Now Is the Best Time to Start
It’s never too early in your adult life to start putting your estate plan together. Make life easier for your loved ones by starting the process today. An experienced estate planning attorney or elder law 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 does not create an attorney-client relationship. For assistance, please contact our Forty Fort office or call (570) 288-1800.