Deck the halls with long-term planning fa la la la la… Not many associate the holiday season with estate planning – especially as it can feel morbid to envision life after death during this time of year. While this is a serious (and sometimes difficult) topic to discuss, it is worth it in the long run to know your family will be taken care of no matter what! What gift is more priceless than a peace of mind?
Are you wondering, “How can I start planning a living will without feeling like the grinch in the process?” Think about it in a positive way: “I’m going to give a gift that will literally last a lifetime!” With these helpful tips, you and your family will enter the new year with the feeling of protection for many years to come…
“It’s an obvious first step, but many people don’t even bother to draw up a will. In fact, only 32% of people say they have a will, according to the 2020 Estate Planning and Wills Study, which was published by Caring.com and based on survey results from 2,400 Americans. Of those who don’t have a will, 30.4% say it’s because they don’t have enough assets to warrant one.” US News
Gifting Your Family the Security of a Living Will…
“A living will is a legally binding document that expresses an individual’s end-of-life preferences, such as whether that person wants to be kept alive through artificial life-support apparatus. While not technically a will, states recognize the authority of living wills. Illinois’ living wills law explicitly states that an individual suffering from a terminal condition who is no longer able to make such lucid decisions may forego any “death-delaying procedure” if he or she has expressed this in a living will.” Find Law
Draft the Will: Many adults in our country do not have a will. Huge mistake! “About 70% of Americans are without advanced care plans and directives, such as living wills, for their families”, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Even if you don’t have a Bill Gates sized estate, it’s imperative that you acquire an estate lawyer and begin the process of establishing financial protection for your family. This is even more important if you have children under the age of 18. You will want to leave behind specific details on who you want to care for them in the unfortunate event of you and your spouse’s death. It’s better to be safe and over prepared than sorry!
The Benefits of a Living Will
- You will know the outcomes of your medical treatment: Plan your health choices out with your doctor ahead of time. When you visit your family practitioner, ask them what common medical decisions you should be aware of in case of an emergency. This will give you a general idea of what you want to apply to the medical section of your will. For examples: if you are hospitalized and need to be taken off of life support, at what point do you want your family to stop attempting to resuscitate you? Important documents such as a DNR should be drafted with your attorney ASAP. “If you become incapacitated and cannot speak for yourself, you’ll want someone who knows you and your decisions to advocate on your behalf.” Everplans
- You can prevent arguments amongst family members: The same reasons a will might feel challenging to create is the same reason it may cause conflict. If your will is outdated, members of your family can be missing from vital financial decisions. If you don’t have a will at all, the people connected to you may have different ideas about how things should be divided. This even includes your wishes regarding where to be buried. Protect your loved ones from potentially painful disagreements by making these decisions ahead of time!
- Make decisions easy for your family: As previously stated, the more detailed your decisions are, the less work your family will have – especially during an emotional time. We’ve all seen the toll it can take on someone to have to plan funeral arrangements, organize documents and even sell a home after someone’s passing. Spare your family this tedious work by arranging everything beforehand. This will give them enough time to process their feelings and come to terms with the loss of you without adding unnecessary stress. “The failure to have such a document in place can result in the need for a wrenching family decision on whether to withdraw life support, or even a high-profile legal battle.” Fifty Plus Advocate
- Authorize treatments you may want: A person can have health issues that may not allow them to make medical choices for themselves. This is even more true if said person doesn’t plan for the worst. Within a living will you can appoint a specific person to be your power of attorney. This can be primarily for your health or all issues connected to your life. Speak with your attorney and family to choose the right person to speak on your behalf when you are unable. Unsure about what questions to ask? Read these important questions to ask your attorney!
- Eliminate financial problems for your family: Having a “what if” or “plan B” mapped out with your family is extremely important. So many things can happen quickly when a crisis happens. Remove room for chaos and discord by drafting up a thorough a financial plan. In some cases, families don’t have a lot of money but they have assets that can be liquidated to create funds. Your lists of assets to sell in a time of need could look like: cars, inherited bonds, a home, a business, and heirlooms. Learn how to properly invest in real estate and build your family’s equity here!
- Create a detailed trust for your children: Do you remember how you spent money at 18? Or how difficult it is to maintain A+ college grades while keeping a part time job? If your children’s inheritance becomes available before you are around to show them how to properly handle spending, you won’t have to fret. Your attorney can set up protocols regarding your children’s trust. Financial details, for example, you must graduate college to have full access to your trust fund. Or, this amount of money is allotted monthly/yearly. You may even implement a financial guardian for said child. “If you believe your child won’t be fully mature until 21 or older, you can apply this to the trust and they will be required to use their power of attorney or appointed guardian(s) to gain access to their inheritance.” Learn more about setting up trust funds here!
Take a moment to establish the people and things that mean the most to you.
Write out a list of people in your life you’d like to protect. Partner, children, siblings, and even charities that are close to your heart. When you have completed your list, you’ll have a better understanding of the questions you may need to ask an attorney. Here are a few questions to think over when creating your list to review with your attorney:
- Who will make decisions on my behalf if I’m sick or injured and unable to do so?
- What type of life-sustaining measures do I want as I near the end of my life?
- Who will care for my children if I die before they turn 18?
Have a family meeting to hear their feedback and share your intentions.
While it can be difficult to initiate, having a discussion with your loved ones in advance helps you clearly communicate your intentions and gives everyone a chance to ask questions or voice their concerns. Having this tough conversation can actually remove some of the stigma and air associated with creating wills.
Obtain a real estate attorney to guide you in the process of creating a living will.
Once you’ve talked with your loved ones and created your list of who you think absolutely needs to be in your will, sit down with a trustworthy attorney like Ben Weaver. He will guide you through the entire process in a simple manner. There may be important questions that come up that you didn’t even think of asking!
Figure out what kind of power of attorney you prefer.
Decide whether you want a standard durable power of attorney, or a “springing” power of attorney that requires a doctor declare you incompetent or incapable before it’s active. Meaning your body may physically be “alive” but unfortunately your faculties are not. In this type of scenario, you would need your power of attorney activated and the guidance of a reputable attorney who knows all of the logistics of your living will.
Keep your will up to date!
Power of attorney documents should be updated about every 5 years to add or remove key assets. Even if there’s no change to your assets and all seems correct, having an updated and notarized will is an extra safety precaution to protect your family. In some states like Illinois, officials can be hesitant about accepting older forms.