Well, at least according to my estate documents.
You may be wondering why someone as young as myself is planning for their own demise so soon... It’s simple. None of us know exactly when our time will come. Sure, you can do little things like exercising more, eating healthy, and not smoking. It helps, but some people do all of these things and still end up with the short end of the stick. So while you can cut back on risky behavior, you can’t negate the inevitable. That’s why preparing now is so important.
As many of you know, my late husband was taken away much earlier than expected by brain cancer. Sure he smoked the occasional cigar, drank German beer, and loved schnitzel and brats, but all in all he was as healthy as a horse. It wasn’t until the terminal diagnosis did we really start our estate planning, and I’m so glad we did. Most people, including myself, hate to discuss our inevitable mortality. What makes it even more disconcerting is the amount of paperwork that goes along with it. From wills to powers of attorney, it’s hard, and confusing, but I can assure you it’s worth the trouble.
This reminds me of a trip I took I took to Germany with my family a few years back. One of the sites we were determined to see was Neuschwanstein Castle. After arriving and purchasing our tickets, I noticed there were horse and carriage rides you could take to the top. I suggested doing so much, but was told by my late husband, whom was Germany and could read the signs much easier, that they cost entirely too much. I asked how much too much was, and was told “probably way too much, so let’s just walk”. So we did.
For those of you that have never been there, let me explain the walking route. It was hell. It’s steep. Very steep. Steep as in a 45 degree angle. It’s also long. Very long. Long as in the “stairway to heaven”… Both of these obstacles made my mother’s and my shoe choice of flip flops a dreadful decision. While trying to keep our shoes in place by gripping the middle section as tightly as possible with our toes, it only took about ten minutes for the complaints to start flying. Now ten minutes doesn't seem like much of an issue, unless of course you still had almost an hour to go…
It was a horrendous climb up what felt like Mount Everest. Did I mention the flip flops?Upon reaching the top, and pretty much exhausted at this point, we ran into some people we had met at a restaurant earlier that day who happened to be from Austin, Texas. After chatting a while, we left as they were about to place their orders. So how in the world did they beat us to the top? Easy…they opted for the carriage ride. Immediately I asked what the charge was, and to my surprise it only ran about $50 total for each carriage, round trip. Shut…the…front…door!
In the end both of us made it to the top. Both of us got to see the spectacular landmark. Both of us thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. The only differences were we had a large number of blisters, and had saved a relatively small amount of money.
What does this have to do with estate planning? Simple. Attempting to do the journey on your own is absolutely possible. However, getting help might not cost as much as you think.
The key point here is to have these documents in place.
What documents you ask? Let’s start with basics…
- Last Will and Testament
- Medical Power of Attorney
- Durable Power of Attorney
Case in point: Say that you’re married, and you and your husband have decided to hold separate bank accounts. You’re husband, who is in excellent health, has a seizure one night. He’s taken by ambulance to the hospital, where he is admitted into ICU for a full week, completely unconscious. You would need two of the above mentioned items to be legally able to handle this situation: the durable POA (to access needed funds in the account to pay bills), and the medical POA to make necessary medical decisions.
What if it happened to your 18 year old child? Same rules apply… POA’s are a must in all cases that involve a legal adult.
Can you do it on your own to save some money? Sure. If you Google any one of these three, you’ll come up with a myriad of possibilities. Read through them, get some ideas, and use what might pertain to your specific situation. Just make sure you include everything you’ll need, or might need to make it legit for any number of possibilities.
Is hiring an attorney your best option? It sure makes it easier, but may or may not be necessary. Depending on the complexity of your situation, it wouldn’t hurt to look in to. I’ve seen situations where accounts weren’t titled properly and property wasn’t jointly owned or easily transferable. Costs tend to rack up higher than if things were done right in the first place.
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"Image courtesy of Grant Cochrane, published on 31 January 2012 Stock Photo - image ID: 10071245 FreeDigitalPhotos.net"