Sickness and death are tragic realities that every family will need to deal with at some point. Too often, this planning goes neglected because the subject is difficult to deal with for many, or simply too confusing. Many consider “estate planning” to be only for the wealthy with sprawling country homes filled with valuable antiques and tapestries. However, this could not be farther from the truth. While most wealthy do have estate plans in place, they are also critical for those who are not wealthy, to ensure that their needs and desires are met in both sickness and health.
An estate plan is simply a set of documents that describe what happens to you and to your possessions in the event you are incapacitated or die. An estate plan deals with the following three major areas: Who inherits your assets? Who will handle your financial affairs? Who will make medical decisions for you? For couples with children, an estate plan will also designate guardians to ensure that children are cared for by trusted friends or relatives. In many cases, a simple will, durable power of attorney, and patient advocate are all the documents that are required to keep families protected.
If an individual becomes sick, injured, or disabled, and has no estate plan in place, a number of very expensive and complicated legal procedures may be necessary. In order to make sure that the individual’s medical and financial needs are met, a guardian or conservator may need to be appointed. This procedure is governed by legal statutes and overseen by a judge, and can be very invasive for families as their fitness to act as a guardian or conservator will be scrutinized in minute detail. In the event an individual dies without an estate plan, the disposition of their assets will be governed by the intestacy rules, which often divide assets and dole out responsibility in ways which the deceased may not have desired.
One of the most important ways we can help protect the families and businesses of our community is to provide them with the information they need to make wise and informed decisions regarding the assets they have worked hard to acquire. Failure to plan in advance too often can and does result in the loss of family businesses and unnecessary hardship on those left behind. Proper planning should not be seen as optional, but as critical.