End-of-life planning can seem even more difficult than talking about death, but it is an integral part of estate planning and a way to leave a legacy for your family. No one wants their family to have to make emergency medical decisions for them without knowing what they want.
People who become incapacitated or die without proper end-of-life planning leave many loose ends for their family members to tie up. This often involves going through long, sometimes expensive, court proceedings to either become a guardian for an incapacitated loved one or move their estate through the probate process after death.
Planning well in advance for death and potential incapacity makes both situations easier for your family and gives you more peace of mind knowing that your wishes will be carried out. Everyone’s situation is unique, so it’s best to work with an estate planning attorney or elder law attorney who can help you tailor an estate plan to meet your specific needs. Below are some of the most common documents and parts of an estate plan.
Last Will and Testament
A last will and testament, or simply a will, is a key component of any estate plan. In your will, you can specify whom you want to receive what you own after you die. You can be as general or as specific as you want, but the clearer you are, the less confusion there will be.
You also use your will to name an executor, also known as a personal representative, to manage and dispose of your estate after you have passed away. If you have minor children, you can use your will to choose a guardian for them if you are unable to care for them.
Even though most people consider their pets family members, they are considered property under the law, and the courts treat them as property. In your will, you can name a caregiver for your pets and choose their next home.
There are many types of trusts for many different purposes. One of the most common types is a revocable living trust. This type of trust can be changed while you are alive but becomes irrevocable and can’t be changed once you pass away.
With an irrevocable trust, once you put your assets into it, you relinquish ownership of those assets. This can be useful for qualifying for government benefits, such as Medicaid.
Some pet owners create pet trusts for pets with long lifespans or those that are expensive to care for. In a pet trust, you can name a trustee or a caregiver for the pet and fund the trust with money to help with their care.
Durable Financial Power of Attorney
A durable financial power of attorney (POA) is an important document used to name a trusted person to be your financial agent. They are authorized to handle your finances if you are alive but unable to make decisions. You may be injured, ill, or out of the country.
Health Care Power of Attorney
In a health care power of attorney (POA), you name a health care agent to make decisions on your behalf regarding your medical care. This can be the same person you choose as your financial agent or someone different. Make sure the person you name is willing and able to carry out your health care wishes regardless of their own views and beliefs.
A living will expresses your wishes regarding the types of medical treatments you want and don’t want if you can’t communicate your wishes. This document is often combined with a health care POA. A living will guides your health care agent when making medical decisions for you.
Memorial, or funeral, instructions are not legally binding documents, but they can be helpful for your family as they make arrangements after your passing. Some people give specific instructions, while others leave most of the decisions to their family members. You can appoint a person to be the primary decision maker.
In your memorial instructions, you can specify what type of service you want, whether you prefer to have your remains buried or cremated, and you can share your choice of resting place. You can write your own obituary or list some things you want in it.
Instructions for Digital Assets
Most people have a variety of digital accounts, including bank accounts, subscriptions, and email addresses. To make it easier for your executor, trustee, or agent to access your accounts, store your account information, including usernames and passwords, in a safe place. Tell them where you keep this information so they can find it.
Starting Your End-of-Life Planning
Working with an estate planning attorney for end-of-life planning ensures your documents meet your state’s current laws and will be followed by your agents and medical professionals. After you have completed your end-of-life planning, review your plan every few years to make sure it still reflects your wishes. Life circumstances may change and affect the decisions you made.
This article offers a summary of aspects of estate planning law. It is not legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice, please contact our Albuquerque office at (505) 830-0202.