1552714The holiday season is filled with the stress of finding the perfect gift for loved ones.  In fact, Black Friday has morphed into Cyber Monday.  And this year retailers created Green Tuesday[1], Camo Thursday[2], Pink and Blue Friday[3], and Magenta Saturday[4] for gift shoppers.  How do you find the right gift for each person?  I believe any gift that conveys how much we care about a person is the perfect gift.

Like many families who have experienced the passing of a loved one, both of my divorced parents have died.   My mother passed away seven years ago.  She was unmarried and died unexpectedly.  Unfortunately, she did not have any estate plan in place — not even a Will.  My seven siblings and I tried our best to make arrangements and take care of her affairs.

As you can imagine, it was difficult for us to agree on many of the decisions that needed to be made.  In addition, the grief and stress over losing a loved one made our emotions raw.  We all got through the experience, but some of my siblings still harbor ill feelings toward each other to this day.

My father died a few days after Christmas last year.  He gave me and my siblings a wonderful gift — he had created an estate plan.  Unlike my mother’s death, we did not need to worry about making arrangements for my father.  Everything was planned out.  Even more, his estate planning documents were in order and sibling acrimony did not surface again.  Instead, we were all able to focus on celebrating his life and grieving appropriately.  My father removed the burdens of stress, anxiety and financial worries that surface when a loved one dies.

An estate plan does not have to be time consuming or expensive.  An estate plan should include these five documents and possibly the sixth:

  1. will and gavelA Last Will and Testament.  Often called a Will, this document states three important things:    (1) who should receive your property, (2) who will take care of your affairs (called an executor or personal representative), and (3) who should care for your minor children, if any.
  2. A Durable Power of Attorney.  If you become incapacitated or disabled, this document names the person(s) who will manage your property.  Without this document, your loved ones will pay legal fees and may wait months to become your Conservator in a court of law.
  3. A Healthcare Power of Attorney.  If you become incapacitated or are unable to communicate your medical wishes, this document gives the person you name the power to make medical decisions on your behalf and to care for you.  Without this document, your loved one will incur legal fees and it can take months to be appointed your Guardian in Probate Court.
  4. A Living Will.  If you are placed on artificial life support, this document states your desire for further medical care.  The Terri Schiavo case in Florida illustrates the need for a Living Will.  She lived on life support for 15 years while her husband and parents fought over the decision to pull the plug.
  5. HIPAA Release Authorization.  This document grants to the named people the ability to obtain your medical information.  Hospitals are increasingly refusing to speak about you to anyone who is not listed on a HIPAA Release – including acknowledging whether you are at the hospital.
  6. A Living or Revocable Trust.  If you have more than $75,000 in personal property (i.e. cash, cars, collections) or real estate worth more than $100,000, a trust will avoid the cost of probate.  A Will requires the executor to go to court to administer your Will.  This incurs legal costs often in excess of $5,000 and takes more than 12 months.  Among other reasons, a living trust avoids the costs and delays your loved ones will have in obtaining your property.  Not everyone needs a living trust; you should consult with an attorney.

I thank my dad for giving me one of the greatest gifts I have ever received.  My dad showed me how much he loved me by creating an estate plan.  Unlike the time after my mother’s death, my siblings and I enjoyed peace and security.

This year, give your family one of the greatest gifts possible – create or review your estate plan.  Have a safe, enjoyable, and happy Christmas and holiday season.

If you have not created or reviewed your estate plan, please call 480 344-4059 to speak with attorney W. John Skabelund.

[1] Green Tuesday was created by Green America to promote shopping with the environment in mind. See www.greentuesday.org.

[2] Gander Mountain created Camo Thursday for special deals on camouflage items.

[3] Mattel created Pink Friday and Blue Friday for discounts on toys for girls and boys respectively.

[4] T-Mobile created Magenta Saturday to lure shoppers to their cell phones and tablets with large discounts.