Even as a lawyer who practices in Estate Planning I didn’t have a Will until I was about 30 years old. I figured since I only had debt if my family wanted to fight over that, they were welcome to it.
So this blog post is directed at the so-called “Millennials” – who are largely defined as folks from about 34 years of age (year of birth, 1982) down to about 16 year old. Largely speaking, it’s people from their 20s to mid-30s. Maybe you haven’t acquired a great deal of wealth yet, but let’s talk about a very important aspect to Estate Planning – not so much a Will and Testament, but other documents which are relevant as well.
Now let me start out by saying that every adult really needs a Will regardless of the size of their Estate mainly because you should have ultimate say over who gets what even from your modest wealth.
But that aside, there’s another part of Estate Planning that is very important for every adult regardless of age or wealth – it’s the Health Care Directives. These have nothing to do with death and everything to do with life. Let’s say you’re alive but you’re temporarily incapacitated – say, in a bad accident and you’re left in a coma. And thereafter it can take weeks or months to rehabilitate yourself to the point where you can handle your own affairs again. Who will handle your finances while you languish in a hospital? Who will make medical decisions for you if you cannot make these decisions yourself?
This is where the Health Care Surrogate form and the Durable Power of Attorney come into play and they’re invaluable tools to help maintain your household and medical care when you cannot do so yourself. The details of these forms go beyond the scope of this simple blog post, but just know that without these forms, if something happens to you without these Surrogate forms, someone in your family would need to Petition the Court to have themselves declared your guardian. This entails a lawyer, a physician to testify to the Court that you’re incapacitated, and a likely person to serve as your guardian. This process can be long and drawn out, especially if family members argue about the identity of the best person to be your guardian – not to mention expensive.
Now these are very important documents but they’re also incredibly powerful documents – when you give someone your power of attorney, they can do everything you can do with your finances. They become a financial surrogate to your assets from Day 1. So who is named on your Power of Attorney should be someone you have complete, total trust and faith in. The most likely people named on a Power of Attorney is typically a spouse, a parent, maybe a brother or sister. Casually naming your bar buddy because he buys you beers probably isn’t a good choice.
The same is true with the Health Care Surrogate form – since the person you nominate will be making medical decisions for you, it should be someone who you know is in your corner at all times. The Health Care Surrogate form includes the “Living Will”, which states that if you’re in a terminal condition or persistent vegetative (long term coma) you don’t want any extraordinary measures taken to keep you artificially alive. Some refer to this as the oh-so-cheery “pull the plug” document. So, choose carefully – these can be life and death decisions!
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