WARNING: At some point in your life the unexpected will happen. If that “unexpected” is sickness, becoming mentally incompetent, or dying, you will need certain legal tools to get you through that period. As you are guaranteed to either get sick, become mentally incompetent, or die, or all of them, my advice to you is obtain the following four documents:
Will: A Will directs how you want your property distributed on death. It also may describe, among other things, who is to manage your Estate (e.g. personal representative or executor), who you want to take care of your children, and instructions about the payment of debts. It does not avoid probate. It is a “one way ticket” to probate.
Durable and General Power of Attorney: A power of attorney gives someone the power to act on your behalf for legal matters. A durable power of attorney springs to life if you are not medically competent to act for yourself. A general power of attorney gives someone broad authority to act on your behalf and should be carefully drafted to give authority in every legal area that you will need.
Healthcare Power of Attorney: A healthcare power of attorney gives someone authority to make medical decisions on your behalf should you lack the ability.
Living Will: A living will informs and gives direction about what medical treatment you want should you be unable to express your wishes. In other words, if you are unconscious or mentally incompetent, this document will state whether you want life sustaining treatment, heroic lifesaving measures, or simply manage the pain while you pass.
The above documents are the essential estate planning tools. If you do not have the documents above, there are laws in place to compensate for your lack of planning; however, your end of life could become more complicated and more expensive for you and your loved ones. Here are the legal alternatives that take the place of the above estate planning tools:
Missing Estate Planning Tool: Explanation of Why You Do Not Want This Result
Will: If you die leaving no will, the State will decide how to divide your assets at death. Please know that the rules for distribution may cause you to enrich someone that you did not intend or wish to enrich.
Durable and General Power of Attorney: A conservator is someone appointed by a court to manage all your assets, if you are not competent to do so (e.g. you are addicted to drugs, suffer from dementia, etc.). The conservatorship is frequently thousands to administer. The system is ripe with mismanagement, is cumbersome to administer, and can take hours of your loved ones time to administer.
Healthcare Power of Attorney: A Guardian is someone appointed by a court to manage all your healthcare needs. If you value privacy, you will no longer have it with the guardian process as your healthcare is the subject of the court. Moreover, it can cost thousands to administer.
Living Will: If you have not planned for your end of life, someone will plan for you. This may mean that you are placed on life support for a prolonged period. Moreover, it means that you may burden your loved ones with the decision to terminate or extend life support.