Since April is Financial Literacy Month, we have asked attorney Mark Gilfix to share his advice on preparing an estate plan. Read his guest post below!
Other than in emergencies, most of us don’t really think about legal or estate planning documents. We all know that we will eventually pass away, but figure that we don’t have to worry about that until we are old or sick.
The fact is, all of us, regardless of age, should have a minimum of 3 estate planning documents in place. Why? Because one never knows what life will bring. And because having these simple documents in place can save you, your family and loved ones immense costs and trouble in the future; they allow you to take control of your future, rather than leaving it up to the whims of the court system.
So what are the 3 documents? A revocable living trust, a durable power of attorney and an advance health care directive.
I won’t bore you with too many unnecessary details, but will give a brief summary of why each document is so important.
- A Revocable Living Trust: Having a trust allows you to name the individuals who can manage your assets if you are ever incapacitated. Without a trust, court action for a conservatorship is often needed–and trust me when I say this is not fun. Additionally, directing where you want your assets to go through a trust (rather than a will) avoids probate. If you only have a will, your estate must go through this public, costly and time-consuming process before it can be distributed to your named beneficiaries. Having a trust, in essence, “privatizes” your estate and avoids all of this.
- A Durable Power of Attorney: This document allows you to name the individuals who can manage your day to day financial and personal business affairs if you are unable to do so for yourself. If you are ever in an accident, or if your capacity is diminished, this can be hugely important. This also helps you avoid the need for a court-ordered conservatorship.
- An Advance Healthcare Directive: This document allows you to name the individuals who can communicate with doctors and make healthcare decisions on your behalf if you are ever unable to do so. A sophisticated directive also contains your wishes on how you would want decisions made. It can take a huge weight off of your loved ones’ shoulders, and again, help you avoid the need for court intervention if you are ever in an accident or otherwise unable to make decisions for yourself.
If you do not have these documents in place yet, speak with a local estate planning attorney. Spending a little time and money now can save you and your family immensely down the road.
Mark Gilfix is an Attorney at Gilfix & La Poll Associates and co-author of Facing the Reality of Long-Term Care. Mark Gilfix cares deeply about generosity and community building, in addition to connecting with people and helping them plan for a vibrant future. He practices in the areas of Estate Planning, Elder Law, and Special Needs Planning in Palo Alto, California.