Attorney & Mediator
Attorney & Mediator

Estate Planning in a Technological Age

Most people when doing estate planning think about the distribution of their assets: money, home, personal property.  In this modern, technological age, there are new issues to consider.

Your agents under your Power of Attorney, your Trustee under your Revocable Trust and your Personal Representative under your Last Will and Testament will have their hands tied if they cannot access your assets because they do not have your passwords.

There are user name, passwords, questions for each account.  There may be a password to open your computer programs.  Without this information, your information is locked up.

Take the time to list every on-line account: bank accounts, credit card accounts, utility accounts.  List the user name and password for each one. 

Also take the time to note whether payments to each credit card, mortgage and utility account are automatic to your checking account, automatic to a credit card or whether it must be accessed and paid.  This is very important information because many do not send out paper invoices for the monthly charges. 

Your agent under your Power of Attorney could miss important payments, or fail to deposit funds into appropriate accounts to cover the automatic payments.

This information should, of course, be kept in a secure location.  Your agents, successor trustees and personal representative should know where his information is located.

This will assure a seamless transition by your agent if you are incapacitated or your heirs if you pass away.

Aging Population

I often hear children with aging parents refer to their parents’ assets as their inheritance. 

We now are living in an age where people are living much longer.  It is highly likely that parents will outlive their assets rather than pass them on. 

Good financial and estate planning needs to take this longevity into account.  As we have more golden years, it will cost more money.  As we age, we will encounter more illness and disability.  How do we plan for these outcomes?

Family discussions are important as we confront these questions.  What are parents’ expectations concerning their incapacity?  Do they believe that they will be cared for by one of their children?  Do the children have the same expectation?

How will a parent be cared for if they are simply unable to live independently in the family home?  Will it be by moving in with one of the children?  Will it be moving to an assisted living home?  How do the children feel about their parents’ wishes?  

Financial considerations are important as well.  Will parents have sufficient assets and income to afford assisted care? 

How will a parent be cared for if they are medically incapacitated by severe illness, dementia, or stroke? Are the parents opposed to nursing home care?  Are the children prepared to take their parents into their homes and give them skilled nursing care?

How would the financial aspects of this care be addressed?  Do parents have long term care insurance?  Is it available and affordable?  If no, what is the plan?

If the plan involves living with a child, would there be a financial consideration for that child?  It is best to discuss this with all family members present.

These are very difficult questions but they should be addressed prior to an illness or accident.  A plan should be developed by the whole family.  Planning is key.

Newlyweds – Planning the Future

You planned your dream wedding – the food, the flowers, the music, the honeymoon. 

Now you are married.  What planning do you need to do now?

It is important to put together a plan to care for yourself and each other in the event of a tragedy.  All married couples, newlyweds, new parents and couples in the autumn of their lives need to have estate plans – to care for one another – in sickness and in health.

A disability due to an illness or injury could cause major legal and financial challenges in a marriage.  A little planning now could prevent a disaster later.

We are each legally responsible for our own health care, and financial decisions.  No one else has the ability to do this for us, even if married.  A spouse is not automatically able to make all medical decisions.  He or she does not have access to assets that are in the name of the disabled spouse.  This includes bank accounts (savings and checking), retirement assets, and investment accounts.  In fact, the healthy spouse will not even be able to file a joint income tax return for the couple.

Therefore, it is important to have in place those legal documents which appoint each other to be the patient advocate in the event of medical disability and agent for financial and legal affairs.

If these documents are not in place, the healthy spouse could be forced to file an action in Probate Court for a Guardianship and/or Conservatorship.  This takes time and wastes valuable resources.  It is public.

Take the steps now to avoid this costly disaster in the future.  Execute a Durable Power of Attorney for legal and financial affairs.  Also appoint your spouse as your Patient Advocate through a Patient Advocate Designation (Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care).

These documents should be part of your estate plan.  While you may not have accumulated significant assets together yet as you are just starting your lives together, it is not too early to plan your estate.  Make sure that you and your spouse can care for each other.

Estate Planning – Is the Cost too High?

Many individuals do not prepare an estate plan because they think the cost is too high.  But is it?

We buy health insurance and yet some of us seldom get sick and never use the benefits.

We buy homeowners insurance and never have a claim – we never have a fire, flood or accident.

We buy automobile insurance and we are never in an accident.

 

So why do we spend this money?  To cover ourselves and our families for the “what ifs” in life.

What if we got very ill and couldn’t afford the surgery and hospitalization?  What if our home burned in a fire and we couldn’t replace it?  What if we were in an automobile accident and the car was severely damaged?  The insurance that we purchase is to protect us financially against the catastrophe.

And so it is with estate planning as well.  If you draft a Will or a Trust, it is not a matter of whether you will pass away, but a question of when.  It could be tomorrow or fifty years from now.  This will be a time of anxiety, sadness and confusion for your family.  Will you have taken the steps to make the legal and financial issues more or less difficult?  Will your family find your affairs in order?  Or will they find confusion and ambiguity?  Will they have the clear direction that they need to carry out your wishes? Or will they be left wondering, or perhaps arguing over the distribution of your estate?

If you execute a Durable Power of Attorney, it protects you in the event that you are seriously disabled and unable to attend to your business, financial and legal matters. Will you have taken the steps to provide for another to step in and handle these matters on your behalf at a time of stress to your family? Or will your family be confronted with an unnecessary, costly and time consuming legal proceeding?

If you execute a Patient Advocate Designation, it protects you in the event of a catastrophic illness so that you have individuals in place to direct your care. Will you have taken the right steps to provide for an advocate who knows your wishes and can step in and guide your medical care in accordance with your wishes?  Or will your loved ones need to file legal proceedings to be allowed to assist you – left wondering what you really wanted?

Estate Planning is no different than insurance.  You are protecting yourself and your family from the “what ifs” in life.  Don’t leave your family wondering; don’t your affairs disorganized.  Get your affairs in order – estate plan.  It’s a bargain.