Brandenburg: Are your end-of-life affairs in order?

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We’re not getting any younger. So, you may want to make end-of-life decisions to protect your loved ones. This might not be the most upbeat of subjects, but as many of us are not getting any younger, it may well be time to start considering some end-of-life decisions and choices to protect our loved ones. Issues like:

  • Is my Will still valid?
  • Should I have a Trust instead of a Will?
  • Will my family be forced to deal with PROBATE when I die?
  • Is my Medical and Mental Power of Attorney out of date?
  • How will my family be able to make medical decisions for me if I get sick?
  • Can I protect my home and money from being taken by the state if I go into a nursing home?”

These and other related decisions should be made now and not at end of life both with your family and a reputable estate attorney. If you are 55 and older, plan now for what may occur in the next 20 years. Even people with modest assets can benefit from end-of-life planning, which encompasses much more than just writing a last will and testament. As we all know, death doesn’t discriminate by age or any other factor. A little forethought now about how you would like things to go once you’re incapacitated or gone can give you great peace of mind now, as well as spare your loved ones a lot of hassle later. First of all, Gather Important documents and contact Information. Property deeds, vehicle titles, official certificates (birth, marriage, etc.), the contact information for your attorney, insurance broker, doctor. All of these are things you can gather and put in the same, safe place now to make it easier for your loved ones later.

Execute a Last Will and Testament. A will is one of the most important estate planning documents you can have, as it details where you would like your property to go after your death. Unless you make a will, you are leaving things up to your state’s intestacy laws, which apply when someone dies without a will. And you should not assume that the state will make the same choices you would. When you create a will, you name an estate administrator or executor (a person you trust to handle the distribution of your estate). You can also name a legal guardian for any minor children and their property, as well as leaving instructions for the care of your pets.

Complete a Living Will or Advance Directive. A living will or advance directive is a legal document in which you name someone to communicate with medical personnel regarding your treatment preferences should you become incapacitated or otherwise unable to express your preferences yourself. Next, put in place a Power of Attorney or POA. A durable power of attorney allows you to name someone to be in charge of making decisions for you if you become incapacitated. You may choose to name a separate health care power of attorney for medical decisions and financial power of attorney for financial decisions. A health care power of attorney works hand-in-hand with a living will to ensure that your wishes regarding medical treatment are followed.

Establish a Living Trust. A living trust can be a great way for you to make sure your wishes are followed after your death, as well as providing for fast distribution of your assets to beneficiaries, avoiding estate taxes and keeping your financial affairs private. With a living trust (revocable), you as the grantor retain control over any property placed within the trust throughout your lifetime. Upon your death, your pre-chosen successor trustee gains control of the trust and will then distribute your assets according to your instructions; all bypassing probate, thus saving both time and money. An irrevocable trust can also serve as asset protection, to protect your property from being touched by creditors or lawsuits.

Update Your Beneficiaries. If you have life insurance, retirement accounts, pensions, or pay-on-death (POD) or transfer-on-death accounts, make sure your beneficiaries are up to date, as these accounts transfer according to their beneficiary designations; your last will does not control them. Any time your family situation changes is a good time to review your beneficiaries.

Secure Your Digital Assets. Along with online bank, investment, and shopping accounts, many people also have social media accounts that need handling upon the death of the owner. Along with online bank, investment, and shopping accounts, many people also have social media accounts that need handling upon the death of the owner. You should also think about what you want to happen with websites, blogs, and any other online activities in which you participate

Plan Final Arrangements. Final arrangements can include organ donation, as well as funeral plans, including how they are to be paid for. Last but not least is that when you have gathered all your estate planning documents, make copies and store the original and copies in a safe place, such as a fireproof safe in your home or a safe deposit box. Make sure at least one other person will be able to access these documents after your death. Just getting everything down on paper is a great step forward in estate planning, but talking with your loved ones about your wishes is priceless. The clearer they are on what you want, the more likely it is that your wishes will be followed and the fewer problems they will have, as they won’t have to guess your intentions.

As I have just gone through this process, I can tell you, both my wife and I are no longer worried about protecting our assets and assuring our wishes will be followed when the time comes. Stay safe and enjoy the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.

Al Brandenburg is a member of the Maricopa Senior Coalition.
Sources: investopedia.com, legalzoom.com, lawinfo.com, legacy.com, AARP
This story was first published in the November edition of InMaricopa magazine.