When you hear or think of estate planning, your next thought might be that you really should get your estate planning documents drafted, or at least updated if you originally did your will and health care proxy when your son was in a car seat rather than the driver’s seat heading off to college.
Time goes by quickly and life is hectic, but you know you will get to it…
Then something else comes up, as it almost always does. Maybe it’s work, or running around with your kid’s activities and school. Maybe you were understandably busy getting divorced, or you’d rather be out on the golf course, or at yoga, or binge-watching your favorite series.
Whatever it is – we can relate and have experienced the same things. So, time marches on and you haven’t completed or even updated your estate plan, and you keep shuffling it lower in the pile of things you know you should do but can’t because you have more pressing matters in the here and now.
Again, you tell yourself you really need to get this little task taken care of…
Maybe you don’t get to it because you think it is expensive, or you’re not super wealthy so you really don’t have to think about it, or you’re afraid it will be a time-consuming process, or you’re just not sure where to start. Understandably, it is not that pleasant to consider a time when you won’t be around.
But Someday, you won’t be around.
Estate Planning Documents
First, you should know that just about any lawyer can draft the three basic documents that make up the core of your estate plan. The three documents are:
- Will. This leaves some or all your property to beneficiaries you select – or purposely exclude. You can also name someone to be the guardian of your minor child or children, so they are not raised by wolves and end up being featured in a disturbing Hulu documentary.
- Durable Power of Attorney (abbreviated as DPOA because nobody wants to say Durable Power of Attorney over and over). Briefly, a DPOA is a legal document where you give another person authority to mange your financial and personal affairs if you are incapacitated, but not deceased. “Incapacitated” could mean you suffer from significant cognitive issues, or perhaps you are in a medically induced coma for a few weeks due to a serious injury or illness. Of course, we hope neither of those things occur, but we must prepare for their possibility.
The person you select to serve as your “attorney in fact” (the person you trust with the power to transact on your behalf) does not have to be an actual attorney.
- Health Care Proxy. This document authorizes someone (known as your health care agent) to make medical decisions on your behalf if you are unable to make them for yourself. It includes language allowing medical staff to share and discuss your medical information and records with your health care agent.
As mentioned earlier, these documents are relatively simple and some of the clauses are similar from client to client. Thus, this work falls squarely in the category generally referred to as “commodity” work in the legal community, as opposed to “specialized” work requiring more expertise and experience – and thus higher fees.
This is why you see some low prices for drafting a basic estate plan, and ads for do-it-yourself options. With estate planning documents, one thing you do need to feel confident about is that the requirements for properly executing the documents are followed. We are talking about witness requirements, notarizing, and other exciting stuff. Be careful if you try to do your own will, because if you don’t get the execution part correct, your will is likely invalid.
It is a good idea to work with a lawyer who will let you know if you should consider a trust. On the other hand, you don’t want to get upsold a more complicated plan (with a correspondingly higher price) than you need. We notice this happens somewhat regularly since estate planning attorneys could starve to death if they relied only on drafting simple wills, etc.
Of course, some people should have a trust. Estate planning lawyers talk about an evil creature that must be avoided at all costs. You’ve likely noticed this creature in advertising, or those nifty invitations to a local restaurant or country club for a nice dinner where the estate planning lawyer talks about all the things you need and maybe even gives you “discounts” for them.
Who, or what, is this monster?
PROBATE! YOU MUST AVOID PROBATE!
Well, this seems like the appropriate time to state an obvious, yet unpleasant fact: Probate can’t hurt you because you’ll be dead.
But what about your family members? The probate process – also referred to as the estate administration process – has been around for a LONG time. It does serve some useful purposes and was tamed in 2008 when Massachusetts adopted provisions of the Uniform Probate Code, simplifying the probate process for many petitioners.
So, Do You Need an Estate Plan?
- You don’t have to be wealthy to benefit from a basic estate plan. If you own any property that matters to you-money, a family heirloom, a collection of something, jewelry, your 1958 Gibson Les Paul Standard guitar-you need an estate plan.
- If you have any children – especially minor children but also older children – then you should have your core estate plan documents completed.
- Might you ever become seriously ill and unable to make a medical or other decision for yourself? We hope this doesn’t happen, but as you know, it certainly does happen and you should have a plan for it.
- Thinking about getting re-married? Have any stepchildren? If so, an estate plan is a very good idea.
I could go on, but the point is this: Just about everyone can benefit from even a simple estate plan.
Need Help with Estate Planning in Massachusetts?
Try to carve out a little time today to contact us. Let’s make today “someday.”