The Certain Things in Life
As Ben Franklin famously said, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” And, with Congress continually tinkering with the tax code, even that is less certain than the one inevitable fact of our own mortality.
We don’t mean to get depressing or bleak, and understand that it is hard to think about the unpleasantness of dying and leaving family and friends behind. But, recently, Nathan and I have both pulled out our own estate planning documents to review and make changes. And both of us were struck by how much had changed over the course of just a few years—situations change, portfolios change, families change, etc. So, we wanted to encourage you to pull out your old documents and review them, or if you’ve not had estate planning documents drawn, to consider having them drafted.
These are the four main documents that every estate plan should contain:
- General Power of Attorney—this document gives authority to the individuals that you name to act on your behalf in any manner, most often financially. The individual appointed can write checks on your bank accounts, sell assets, file your taxes, etc. This power is extremely broad, so the individual named should be someone that you trust implicitly!
- Medical Power of Attorney—this document gives authority to the individuals named to make medical decisions on your behalf, in the event that you were unable to speak for yourself. In the age of HIPAA rules, this document is increasingly important as medical providers are barred from discussing anything about your medical care with anyone unless specifically authorized. Who you trust to make medical decisions for you may be entirely different than who you would trust with your finances, so the person named in the Medical Power of Attorney may be totally different than your General Power of Attorney appointee.
- Living Will—this document lays out your desires for medical care in the event that you are terminally ill, in a coma, or otherwise in last stages of life and unable to speak on your behalf. While unpleasant to think through the choices this document presents, your values about what quality of life you desire are critical to document so your family can honor your wishes during an emotionally difficult time.
- Will—this document directs the disposition of any assets that you own at your death that will not be transferred via any other document. For example, life insurance proceeds or retirement plan accounts may have a designated beneficiary named—the will is not able to supersede these named beneficiaries. Property owned jointly, bank accounts that have payable on death beneficiaries, and survivor pension benefits also do not pass via the will. Only assets that are owned individually with no other beneficiary designations will pass via the will. That said, the will is still critically important—first of all, it is surprising how many assets may not have a joint owner of beneficiary, and controlling the disposition of those assets is important. Additionally, the will is the place where guardians for minor children are named.
For some, the estate planning package may include other documents—for families with children or complicated family structures, a trust may be needed. For business owners, special documents dealing with the business in the event of unexpected death or disability are vital. Each estate plan is unique to each different family situation, and the help of an experienced estate attorney is invaluable.
So, while we, at Meridian Financial Partners, are not attorneys and cannot draft these documents for you, if you just need help getting started, let us know and we are happy to help you talk through your options and work with your attorney to get a plan in place to protect you and your family!