If you are a veteran (or know a veteran), then you know what "out-processing" means. It means you are transitioning from the current duty station to the next. On thing for sure, every veteran knows that all of your "papers" must be in order to move on.
Veteran or civilian, at some point in life we all "out-process" ... if you know what I mean. So, are all of your "estate planning" papers in order?
A recent article in The New York Times, titled "There’s More to Estate Planning Than Just the Will," chronicles the experience of Erik A. Dewey, a writer from Tulsa.
Unfortunately for him, Dewey was tasked with sorting through piles of paper and online information when his father died at age 65—just a week from retirement. Fortunately for us, Dewey compiled everything he learned from the experience into “The Big Book of Everything.”
While getting items in order is more urgent for seniors, everyone should do this.
Here are some of the most basic items.
A Will or Living Trust? A will is used to distribute your assets after you die. A living trust makes it possible to transfer your assets to the trust for your benefit during your lifetime, and then to your beneficiaries when you die.
Undoubtedly, you have or will read the opinions of "experts" who say a living trust is better than a will. According to the original article, however, “The benefits of trusts are overplayed and the disadvantages of probate are exaggerated.” I think that is about as well stated as I have seen anywhere.
There are some instances when a trust is appropriate. For example, when you have a summer or second home out-of-state or a family business that will continue after you pass. A will might be all you need, but it is best to consult an estate planning attorney.
Health Care Directives. A health care treatment directive, is usually limited to end-of-life decisions like life-prolonging measures. A durable power of attorney for health care decisions, on the other hand, deals with all health care decisions. It lasts only as long as you are incapacitated and unable to make decisions for yourself.
Power of Attorney. This gives another person, known as your "agent" or "attorney in fact," the authority to make financial decisions on your behalf. A "durable" power of attorney allows that person to act even if you become incapacitated.
Your advance health directive (ours consists of the "health care treatment directive," "durable power of attorney for health care decisions," and an "anatomical gift declaration") should be distributed freely, but especially ensure that your spouse, your children, and your doctors have a copy.
Aside from the major legal documents, here are some other recommendations:
- List passwords and logins for everything.
- Keep old tax documents for several years after someone has died.
- Maintain medical histories.
- Detail the companies and services that direct-debit from your bank accounts and credit cards.
The original article also reminds us not to forget some of the everyday items, such as directions for your house alarm, furnace, sprinkler system and where you keep the key to the lawn mower.
[Sidebar: As for those of you who are veterans, make sure your family has access to a copy of your DD 214. This will be needed to make arrangements for your funeral and process other benefits. When I came off active duty, I recorded my DD 214 with the county Register of Deeds. Accordingly, it is now a matter of public record should the original or copies be lost or destroyed.]
Be sure to consult an experience estate planning attorney. He or she can help you get your legal "out-processings" papers in order and up-to-date.
Remember: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” When making your financial, tax and estate plans, do not go it alone. Be sure to engage competent professional counsel.
For more information about estate planning in Overland Park, KS (and throughout the rest of Kansas and Missouri) and to download free tools to help you organize your estate, visit my estate planning website.
Reference: New York Times (September 5, 2014) "There’s More to Estate Planning Than Just the Will"