It is always important to have estate planning documents in place to face the unknown that the future holds. During a pandemic like the one the world is facing now, it is even more important, one may argue essential, to have the proper estate planning documents in place. Generally speaking, any adult would do well to have the following documents in place:
1) Last Will and Testament
This is the document most are familiar with. In a will, an individual describes exactly how they wish their assets to be distributed upon their death. The individual will also appoint a person to serve as the executor of their estate when the individual passes away. The executor serves in an administrative function, filing the paperwork with the Surrogate’s Court and ensuring that the deceased individual’s wishes are carried out as specified in the will.
An individual with minor children will also appoint a guardian for their minor children. This is a monumentally important position that can be appointed through a will so that the parent’s wishes are known. Planning with minor children in mind usually also entails creating a trust to receive the child’s inheritance if they are under a certain age when the parent passes away. This is to protect the inheritance until the child reaches a mature age to handle the inheritance.
2) Durable Power of Attorney
The durable power of attorney is a document in which the individual appoints a person to act as the individual’s “agent”. The power of attorney is designed to give the named agent(s) the authority to act on the individual’s behalf in connection with personal, financial, legal, and business matters. This document becomes a very important instrument that can save a lot of time and money in the event the individual becomes incapacitated for any period of time and is unable to manage their finances.
Many parents with adult children either in college or just out of college may do well to arrange for their children to complete out a power of attorney (and health care proxy) naming one or both of the parents as the agent(s). This allows the parent to step in to assist the adult child should something happen while the child is away from home.
3) Health Care Proxy (or Health Care Power of Attorney)
The health care proxy is another document in which the individual appoints a person to act as the individual’s “agent”. The health care proxy authorizes the named health care agent to make health care decisions for the individual in the event the individual is unable to make a health care decision due to any sort of incapacitated state. Again, parents would do well to have their adult children execute a health care proxy naming the parents as agent to assist with any medical decisions that need to be made if the child is unable to make them herself.
The above documents are simply a bare minimum of what every adult should have in place to protect against the unknown. Speaking with a qualified attorney about your own unique situation could reveal the need for additional documents or procedures that need to be put in place. As the past year shown us, the future is not certain and making sure you have an appropriate plan in place is essential.
Timothy Doolittle is a member of the Wladis Law Firm, P.C., located in Syracuse, New York. Contact him at 315-445-1700.