A will, power of attorney and health care proxy are the key building blocks of your estate plan, according to the Traverse City Record Eagle in “Simple steps to peace of mind.”
If you die without a will, your state has a plan in place for you. However, you, or more correctly, your family, probably won’t like it. Your assets will be distributed according to the laws of inheritance, and people who you may not know or haven’t spoken to in years may end up inheriting your estate.
If your fate is to become incapacitated and you don’t have an estate plan, your family faces an entirely new set of challenges. Here’s what happened to one family:
A son contacted the financial advisor who had worked with the family for many years. He asked if the advisor had a power of attorney for his father. His mother had passed away two years ago, and his father had Alzheimer’s and wasn’t able to communicate or make decisions on his own behalf.
Five years ago, the financial advisor had recommended an estate planning attorney to the couple. The son called the attorney’s office and learned that his parents did make an appointment and met with the attorney about having these three documents created. However, they never made an estate plan.
The son had tried to talk with his parents over the years, but his father refused to discuss anything.
The son now had to hire that very same attorney to represent him in front of the probate court to be appointed as his father’s guardian and conservator. The son was appointed, but the court could just have easily appointed a complete stranger to these roles.
The son now has the power to help his father, but he will also have to report to the probate court every year to prove that his father’s well-being and finances are being handled properly. Having a will, power of attorney, and health care proxy would make this situation much easier for the family.
Guardianship is concerned with the person and his or her well-being. Conservatorship means a person has control over an individual’s financial matters and can make all decisions about property and assets.
There is a key difference between powers of attorney and conservatorship and guardianship. An individual with capacity gets to name whomever they wish to have power of attorney. It’s someone who they know and trust. With conservator and guardianship, it’s possible that someone you don’t know and who doesn’t know your family, holds all your legal rights.
A far better alternative is simply to meet with an estate planning attorney. Start by giving some thought to who you would want to take charge of your life and your finances if you were incapacitated and unable to manage your life by yourself. Consider who you would want to have your various assets when you die. Then, the estate planning attorney can create an estate plan including these three documents and whatever planning tools your situation requires.
Reference: Traverse City Record Eagle (June 23, 2019) “Simple steps to peace of mind”