When many people think of Estate Planning, they think of either the elderly or the wealthy. In fact, all people need Estate Planning. “Estate” simply refers to anything you own or rent, any checking/savings accounts, etc., so everyone has an estate. In this post, I will explain what Estate Planning is, the most important documents, and why it is necessary.
What is Estate Planning, and why is it important?
Estate planning is the process of creating documents such as Wills, Durable Powers of Attorney, and Advanced Directives (Living Wills) to plan for incapacity, death, or disability. It is an essential task that all adults should do, because it allows a person control over their health care, property, families (including young children), and other decisions when they are no longer able to so.
What are the most important Estate Planning documents to have?
The most important documents that everyone should have are a Will, Durable Powers of Attorney for both finances and healthcare, and an Advanced Directive (Living Will). There are other documents which can (but are not always useful, depending on a person’s situation), including Community Property Agreements, Trusts, Special Needs Trusts, and others. It is always important to consult with an attorney to find out which documents are the best for you. Having the wrong document or a poorly written one can have extremely negative consequences for you and your family.
What do these Estate Planning documents do?
A Durable Power of Attorney allows you to appoint another person to make health care and financial decisions for you while you are alive but unable to do so for yourself. It can be a less restrictive alternative to guardianship, because it allows you to retain more control over your healthcare and finances.
An Advanced Directive (Living Will) is an end of life document that specifies any comfort measures or life sustaining treatment a person wants should they become permanently unconscious and will not recover.
A Will allows for the transfer of a person’s property to loved ones when that person passes away. Washington has very specific requirements regarding wills, so it is important to have an Estate Planning attorney draft it.
Can I go online and fill out Estate Planning documents myself?
Every state has very specific rules on how Estate Planning documents must be drafted and validated. Unfortunately, those companies that sell do-it-yourself documents sell the exact same forms with the exact same instructions in every state. That means that the Will you just did might not hold up during Probate, and your property might go to someone who you would never have wanted to have it. Having an attorney handle your Estate Planning gives you piece of mind, because you know it is being done correctly.
What could happen if I do not have any Estate Planning documents?
Not having Estate Planning documents means that someone else could make decisions about you or your property that you do not want. For example, not having a Will could result in property going to a specific family member that you do not want to receive that property. Failing to have a Durable Power of Attorney or Living Will might result in you being kept on life support longer than you would have ever wanted. Estate Planning allows you to make decisions for yourself and your family without the state making those decisions for you.