A Comprehensive Estate Plan is More than Just Distributing Property At Your Death
When it comes to estate planning, most people think that they need to make sure that the right people inherit their stuff when they die. They’re not wrong, but they shouldn’t stop there. Of course, how we decided we want to distribute our property when we die is a fundamental part of estate planning. However, providing for the proper distribution of your assets upon your death is just one part of the process.
And it’s not even the most critical part.
If you only plan for your death, you are ignoring an important part of your estate plan. As scary as it is, you must recognize that you could become incapacitated, either physically or mentally, before you die.
Many of Us Are Likely to Become Incapacitated Before We Die
Like death, each of us is at constant risk of experiencing a devastating accident or disease that renders us incapable of caring for ourselves or our loved ones. But unlike death, which is final, incapacity results in an uncertain outcome and time frame.
Incapacity can be a temporary event from which you eventually recover, or it can be the start of a long and costly event that ultimately ends in your death. Indeed, incapacity can drag out over many years, leaving you and your family in an agonizing limbo. This uncertainty is what makes incapacity planning so incredibly important.
In fact, incapacity can be a far greater burden for your loved ones than your death. Your incapacity can cost more in terms of money as well as emotional burden and stress for those taking care of you, including conflict if your family disagrees what is in your best interests.
The goal of effective estate planning is to keep your family out of court and out of conflict no matter what happens to you. So if you only plan for your death, you’re leaving your family—and yourself—extremely vulnerable to potentially tragic consequences.
You Must Name Someone to Act in the Event of Your Incapacity
Planning for incapacity requires a different mindset and different tools than planning for death. If you’re incapacitated by illness or injury, you’ll still be alive when these planning strategies take effect. What’s more, the legal authority you grant others to manage your incapacity is only viable while you remain alive and unable to make decisions about your own welfare.
If you regain the cognitive ability to make your own decisions, for instance, the legal power you granted others is revoked. The same goes if you should eventually succumb to your condition—your death renders these powers null and void.
To this end, the first thing you should ask yourself is, “If I’m ever incapacitated and unable to care for myself, who would I want making decisions on my behalf?” Specifically, you’ll be selecting the person, or persons, you want making your healthcare, financial, and legal decisions for you until you either recover or pass away.
A Court Will Decide Who Will Act For You if You Do Not Name Someone
The most important thing to remember is that you must choose someone. If you don’t legally name someone to make these decisions during your incapacity, the court will choose someone for you. And this is where things can get extremely difficult for your loved ones.
In New Mexico, the court will typically appoint a
guardian or conservator to make these decisions on your behalf. This person
could be a family member you’d never want managing your affairs, or a
professional guardian who charges exorbitant fees. Either way, the choice is
out of your hands.
Furthermore, like most court proceedings, the process of naming a guardian is often quite time consuming, costly, and emotionally draining for your family. If you’re lying unconscious in a hospital bed, the last thing you’d want is to waste time or impose additional hardship on your loved ones. And this is assuming your family members agree about what’s in your best interest.
For example, if your family members disagree about the course of your medical treatment, this could lead to ugly court battles between your loved ones. Such conflicts can tear your family apart and drain your estate’s finances. And in the end, the individual the court eventually appoints may choose treatment options, such as invasive surgeries, that are the exact opposite of what you’d actually want.
This potential turmoil and expense can be easily avoided through proper estate planning. An effective plan would give the individuals you’ve chosen immediate authority to make your medical, financial, and legal decisions, without the need for court intervention. What’s more, the plan can provide clear guidance about your wishes, so there’s no mistake or conflict about how these vital decisions should be made.
What Won’t Work
Determining which planning tools you should use to grant and guide this decision-making authority depends entirely on your personal circumstances. There are several options available, but choosing what’s best is something you should ultimately decide after consulting with an experienced lawyer like us.
That said, we can tell you one planning tool that’s totally worthless when it comes to your incapacity: a will. A will only goes into effect upon your death, and then it merely governs how your assets should be divided, so having a will does nothing to keep your family out of court and out of conflict in the event of your incapacity.
Proper Tools That Do Work
There are multiple planning vehicles to choose from when creating an incapacity plan. And this shouldn’t be just a single document; instead, it should include a comprehensive variety of multiple planning tools, each serving a different purpose.
Though the planning strategies you ultimately put in place will be based on your particular circumstances, it’s likely that your incapacity plan will include some, or all, of the following:
Healthcare power of attorney: An advanced directive that grants an individual of your choice the immediate legal authority to make decisions about your medical treatment in the event of your incapacity.
Living will: An advanced directive that provides specific guidance about how your medical decisions should be made during your incapacity.
Durable financial power of attorney: A planning document that grants an individual of your choice the immediate legal authority to make decisions related to the management of your finances, real estate, and business interests.
Revocable living trust: A planning document that immediately transfers control of all assets held by the trust to a person of your choosing to be used for your benefit in the event of your incapacity. The trust can include legally binding instructions for how your care should be managed and even spell out specific conditions that must be met for you to be deemed incapacitated.
The Proper Planning Can Help Stop a Bad Situation from Becoming Worse
You may not be able to prevent your potential incapacity, but proper estate planning can at least give you control over how your life and assets will be managed if it does occur. Moreover, such planning can prevent your family from enduring needless trauma, conflict, and expense during an already trying time.
If you haven’t yet planned for incapacity, meet with me as your Personal Family Lawyer® right away. I can counsel you on the proper estate planning vehicles to put in place, and help you select the individuals best suited to make such critical decisions on your behalf. If you already have planning strategies in place, I can review your plan to make sure it’s been properly set up, maintained, and updated. Contact us today to get started.
If you need some more information before you get started, you can review our video here: https://www.gglawnm.com/additional-information-video/. Or you can schedule an appointment online here: https://albuquerquefamilyplanningsession.as.me/. We look forward to working with you!