Let's face it. None of us thinks we are going to die, especially soon.
However, I remember something my maternal grandfather used to say: the old must die ... and the young may die.
So, what estate planning legal instruments (sounds cooler than calling them "legal documents"), are fundamental?
Recently, this theme was taken up by NASDAQ in an article titled "Why You Need Key Estate-Planning Documents."
According to the article, the basics would include a will for property transfer purposes, along with a general durable power of attorney and an advance health care directive for incapacity issues.
Examples include the estates of Elvis Presley, James Gandolfini, Whitney Houston and Phillip Seymour Hoffman just to name a few.
Oh, I almost forgot - Michael Jackson.
Who needs that kind of drama?
If you have a valid will, the transfer of your assets may be much less confusing and difficult. A will tells your executor (also known as a personal representative) how your assets should be distributed.
In addition, a will can carry out your wishes regarding the order in which your heirs should receive your assets. This can be very important in case funds run out before all of the bequests are fulfilled.
Even if you have a will, however, when property is owned jointly with at least two names on the title, it passes automatically to the surviving owner.
Other financial assets, like life insurance proceeds and funds from retirement plans, are likewise automatically transferred to the named beneficiaries.
Teaching point: Make certain these are up-to-date!
If you leave no will, do not own assets jointly with another who survives you, or do not have up-to-date beneficiary designations, then a probate judge will oversee the transfer of your property according to state law.
Remember Terri Schiavo, the young Florida woman who remained in a persistent vegetative state for months after suffering severe brain damage?
Her husband wanted to remove the feeding tube keeping her alive, claiming she would not have wanted to be on artificial life support.
On the other side were her parents who opposed this and were willing to care for her.
Sadly, Terri did not have any estate planning documents to appoint her own health care decision-makers or indicate her own wishes.
In the end this saga lasted almost a decade with the courts, Congress, and even President George W. Bush becoming involved.
In the event you become incapacitated, this is where two legal documents are essential when it comes to making your ongoing financial and health care decisions - a general durable power of attorney and an advance health care directive.
Where should you get your estate planning legal documents?
Spoiler alert: Obviously, I am biased on this.
Nevertheless, take it from the third party NASDAQ article and get your estate planning documents from an estate planning attorney.
In the process, he or she can help you transfer property to your heirs in the most tax-efficient way possible and make sure your plans comply with the state estate laws where you live.
Although you can search the Internet for services that provide templates for wills, powers of attorney, and health care directives, you are infinitely safer to have an experienced estate planning attorney who understands your unique circumstances.
If you need a will or answers to your questions about what would happen to your property when you are no longer around, consult with an experienced estate planning attorney.
How do you find an "experienced" estate planning attorney?
First, ask around. Friends, family and other professional advisors are trustworthy sources.
Second, conduct an "organic" search on "Google" for "estate planning" near you (e.g., "Estate Planning Anytown MoKan").
Third, either way, verify. Check out the education, experience, ratings and client reviews of any attorney before you contact him or her.
In fact, I use both of these services to thoroughly vett attorneys before referring members of our "client" family for legal help in other areas of law or for matters in jurisdictions outside Kansas or Missouri.
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), visit our estate planning website and be sure to subscribe to our complimentary estate planning e-newsletter while you are there.
Reference: NASDAQ (December 16, 2015) "Why You Need Key Estate-Planning Documents"