Some of you know that I do event photography for non-profits on the side. This is a lovely experience and I enjoy it thoroughly! Plus, I get to meet lots of caring individuals. I met with one such gentleman this week after the event to talk about what we do as a firm and how we like to do good in the community in our own ways. Learn more about that here.
But, after speaking with him, he told me, “Well, I don’t know anyone who needs your services.” I was in total shock. Education is in order! Everyone needs our services!!!
This made me think that we needed an article on the different reasons and life events that should always accompany the making of, or updating of, an estate plan. I will detail them here, and have included a visual – our “Big Life Moments Wreath”.
We will go around the wreath to talk about each life moment.
1. You graduate from college or move out of your family’s home
You no longer have Mom and Dad at arm’s length to help you in the case of an emergency and since you are over 18, you are now an adult. You need Powers of Attorney and HIPAA Authorizations so that your loved ones can check on you in the hospital and not be barred by Federal Privacy Law. Also, you may wish to name the closest family member (in physical proximity) as your Medical Power of Attorney so that important medical decisions are never delayed and that the person you trust most is making them for you if you are in an accident.
2. You join the Armed Forces.
As a dangerous career path that you have chosen, while difficult to think about, you need a Will. This document will help your family during times of grief if something were to happen to you. A Last Will and Testament can clearly list out your personal property and who should get what. It is a thoughtful last letter to those you love most. This is a must-do for anyone at anytime, but especially for those in the Armed Services or in dangerous careers.
3. You get married.
Ahhhh love! Well, now it’s not just one of you anymore. You need Powers of Attorney, a HIPAA Authorization, a Living Will, and Last Will or Trust. This way, if something happens to one of you, your surviving spouse has all the tools that they need to make delicate medical decisions for you if you can’t (and end artificial life support if necessary and without guilt of wondering whether that’s what you would have wanted), pay your bills and other financial tasks, be able to access your medical information easily and quickly, and know exactly how to distribute your property if you pass away. Having a plan can ease the burden on a grieving spouse.
4. You get a dog (cat/iguana/parrot…..snake?)
Pets are family too! They should always be mentioned in your plan. Would you really want Fido to potentially end up at a kill shelter? Would you want family members fighting over who gets Miss Whiskers? Would you want to leave your pet to a friend and not leave any specific money for their comfort or care? Probably not. Let’s talk about your pets when you come to meet with us to set up your plan.
5. You have a baby!
Congratulations! Now, you need guardianship documents. Short-term guardianship documents are extremely important if you do not want your child in the hands of Child Protective Services for even a minute while a blood relative is located. If something happens to you, don’t compound fear for your child. Make sure you have created short-term documents that name friends, family, nannies or babysitters as a “first-responder.” The police will have to honor this. And, make sure to have long-term guardianship documents outside of your Will. Your kids are not personal property. That is what a Will is designed to transfer – not people. Guardianship is so important to avoid family discord and make sure that the person you want is raising your child – not who the Court system thinks is best.
6. You go on a dream vacation to Hawaii!
Whether you are with the kids, or leave them at home, you need a full estate plan to protect your family if something happens to you. By now, you have enough extra cash to afford this type of trip. That means, you most likely are starting to build a bit of a Nest Egg. If you have minor children at home, a Trust is a must-do to be sure that your assets are protected and staggered throughout their lives. If something happens to you – or even if it doesn’t, a Trust is a wonderful way to be sure that their inheritances are protected from bad decision-making and set aside for health and education, or whatever else you feel the nest egg should be used for.
7. You go rock climbing and fall.
Uh oh….another reason to have all your necessary medical legal documents in order. And, if the accident is more serious, a Living Will that guides your family as to how many days to keep you on life support when two doctors agree that your condition is irreversible and terminal – that nothing can be done and that you will never “come back.” This will save your family from unnecessary and staggering medical costs as well as the grief and guilt of having to make a decision on your part without any indication of what you would have wanted.
8. Your kids graduate high school.
What a great graduation present. Give them the peace of mind of knowing that even if life takes a tragic tumble, you have all the necessary documentation to step in for important medical decisions and more.
9. You go on a European vacation.
See Tip # 6 and always carry an electronic version of your documents when you travel. This might also be a good time to review
10. You have your first grandchildren.
Legally, heirs include your children only. If one of them passes away, by statute, their children would be set to inherit. But, if you want to make special accommodations for all of your grandchildren, you need to include that language specifically in your plan.
11. You retire.
This is a great time to review your plan and make sure that everyone you love is taken care of in the best way possible. Perhaps at this time, you also want o leave a legacy or donate to a specific cause or charity. A sound plan can accomplish all of these goals and give you a feeling of security, knowing that your family will avoid the costly and emotionally draining process of probate. Also, you will have named someone to be in charge of your estate and lead your family when the time comes to say goodbye.