Planning for one's passing is often one of the hardest things that a person has to do. You always believe it can be put off until tomorrow, but mortality waits on no one. Far too often we wait until the last minute to express our directions for what to do after we are gone, and for some that last minute of preparation never comes. The ensuing chaos caused by a hastily drafted will, or no will at all, leaves loved ones to second guess every conversation that they had with you about your final desires and often leads to family fights.
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This leads us to one of the most overlooked benefits of planning your estate which has nothing to do with your assets. Whether it is a will or a trust, your estate planning provides a comforting and guiding hand during your loved one's darkest hours. When someone passes away there are many questions that must be answered. Burial or cremation? A funeral or celebration of life? Is there a religious preference? You assume you have already told your loved ones the answers to these questions, but in the absence of an express directive, they will have very different answers and those differences will lead to very real fights. Your choices in advance will provide comfort and avoid the type of battles that can bring never ending grudges.
Estate Planning also gives you the control to decide what you want done with your assets after you pass away. Only you know how you want your assets should be distributed when you are gone, be it to family, friends, or your favorite charity. Clearly laying out your choices in advance prevents battles between your loved ones over what they were promised, and who you wanted to help. Moreover, if you fail to complete your estate planning then the state that you live in deems you to have died “intestate” and will use their default rules to determine who gets what from your estate. This could potentially allow someone you did not want getting a sudden windfall made up of your life’s hard work. This can also lead to creditors of your loved ones being able to seize their inheritance to pay off debts. Completing your estate planning ensures that only the people you choose will receive the benefit of your life of hard work.
Good Estate Planning should include contingent powers of attorney and health care powers of attorney which gain force if you should lose capacity for any reason. If you are ever incapacitated and unable to make decisions for yourself, such as from being in a coma, your powers of attorney will give the person of your choice the ability to manage your finances until you can recover. A heath care power of attorney will tell your loved one what medical procedures you wanted and did not want. Absent such direction, your family members will be second guessing every medical decision they make on your behalf and may be left with the guilt that they could have done something more should you pass.
Who you choose to craft your Estate Planning is just as important as the decision you make within your documents. You should make sure that you use attorneys who understand how important your decisions are and can make sure that your wishes will be fulfilled.