Is there anything better than preparing for a trip? Planning every detail of the upcoming adventure, filling your daily routine with new locations, and booking excursions to do new things with people you’ve never met? Not to mention packing enough clothes for a month even though you are only leaving for a week.
We spend weeks, even months, planning every detail of our next journey out of the city we live in, but will avoid the topic of estate planning like a timeshare sales pitch. In reality, estate planning is one of the best uses of our organizational skills and attention to detail. Living a life well lived and leaving family with peace of mind – this is the ultimate destination.
Reasons for Estate Planning
- Health Care Decision Making
- Asset Protection Planning
- Family Peace of Mind
1. The details of who will make health care decisions are part of estate planning.
Imagine the opportunity to take the trip of your dreams. The ability to go anywhere, you are in total control. Do you put it off? Think about it tomorrow? Just wing it when you get there?
Absolutely not. Every moment would be planned down to the last aperitif to accompany the final pre-dining nibble before returning home. Estate planning is even more important than the trip of a lifetime. It ties up the elegant bow on the trip that is your lifetime.
These documents direct your final wishes and offer guidance at a time when your family needs to hear your voice.
Estate Planning Documents
- Health Care Surrogate
- Power of Attorney
- Living Wills
- Irrevocable and Revocable Trusts
A written plan allows you to make detailed plans for your healthcare decisions and more. Specifically, these documents outline who will speak for you when you are no longer able. These are the carefully thought-out plans that will give your family peace of mind if you were to experience health challenges.
Sure, it’s not as fun to talk about as a dream vacation, but life happens. From early onset Alzheimer’s to a sudden debilitating event like a stroke, making healthcare decisions ahead of time allows everyone to focus on you and your care. Avoid those heartbreaking conversations about not knowing what you wanted and give them the tools to confidently care for you.
Common Scenario: Early Onset Alzheimer’s
Bob and Sally find each other later in life. She is widowed and he is divorced; they connect and start a blissfully happy life together. Her adult kids are supportive, and his kids are coming around, but they jump into marriage with enthusiasm, the wisdom of age, and a blind eye to previous disappointments.
After a few years of adventurous travel and the addition of multiple grandchildren, Bob starts noticing that Sally has moments of forgetfulness, but they laugh at the silliness of her responses – her graceful smile returns and his heart is full again. The moments turn to spells and the spells grow into daily behaviors and, suddenly, Bob realizes Sally needs more help than he can provide.
Signs of Early Onset Alzheimer’s
- Disruptive memory loss
- Confusion with time or place
- New problems with words in speaking or writing
- Challenges in planning or problem-solving
At a family meeting, Bob discusses the changes in Sally and his need for support. The blank faces of her adult children speak volumes – they never had this conversation with their mom – who speaks for Sally? The fortunate family discovers the occasional lapses in memory and immediately defers to the aging plan that was established during estate planning.
The unfortunate family? They bicker and disagree as they make their way to Guardianship Court, unable to decide amongst themselves who can make the decisions that Sally would have made. It’s an expensive process and a journey they never prepared for but could have avoided.
2. You can protect your assets using estate planning.
With an effective estate plan, you can maintain control over your assets during your lifetime and even after your death. Estate planning attorneys in Florida can work with you on the right plan for your situation. Even if your estate isn’t complicated, your estate planning attorney can make sure your estate is carried out in the way that you would want.
Control over assets includes control over who receives your assets after you pass away. With an estate plan, you can name your assets, beneficiaries, and who hands out the goods (executor) when you are gone. The decision to appoint a power of attorney and healthcare proxy is a critical part of your aging plan. It’s best to plan as early as possible – even as young as 18 years old.
An experienced Florida estate planning lawyer knows what documents you need to create the most effective plan for you. The good news is that these documents are dynamic – they can be adjusted as situations in your life change. If you get married, divorced, have a baby, or are looking forward to retiring soon, each occasion is a good reason to review your estate plan and see that it still makes sense for you.
Common Scenario: Early Onset Alzheimer’s
When we left Bob and Sally earlier, they were struggling with caregiving decisions. Without an estate plan and documents that designated whom she would choose to direct her care, the family discovered that was just the beginning. An estate plan would have included access to finances. Bob had always known the house they lived in was awarded to Sally in her divorce, but they had never thought to put his name on the deed. Being in limbo takes on a whole new meaning for Bob and is not a destination he enjoys.
If you have assets or property, you have an estate. That includes bank accounts, real property, insurance, pension, and retirement accounts, stocks, bonds, and businesses. All these assets require a plan for incapacity or death. A plan can include protection from creditors, but it also includes the ability for your family to have quick access to much-needed money during difficult times.
3. You can plan for your family’s peace of mind well in advance.
While that trip of a lifetime may be life-changing, your decision to document your wishes in an estate plan will be life-affirming. This may feel like a hard conversation. But starting the conversation will be an empowering experience you can share with your family, and everyone benefits.
How Do I Start a Conversation About End-of-Life?
While estate planning documents may seem more transactional and financial, there is a big part of the plan that relies on your vision of end-of-life care. The details of where you will be and how you will be cared for go beyond transactional and financial to the oft-avoided space of feelings and emotional decisions.
Not sure where to start? Consider the Five Wishes document widely available online and from local hospice providers. Written in the form of a journal, the document allows you to fill in the blanks to answer the questions of how you envision your care at the end of life, who is making those decisions, and how your personal preferences are being reflected during your final days, hours, and moments. The Five Wishes is not a replacement for the legally executed documents in an estate plan, but it does give families a jumping-off point for serious discussions about hard topics.
Suggestions for End-of-Life Discussions
- Schedule a specific time once a month for a family meeting
- Set a specific amount of time for the meeting (not more than one hour)
- Choose one topic to discuss within that timeframe
- For example, discuss one wish from Five Wishes document
- Agree to listen and agree to disagree – not everyone’s plan looks the same
- After a few months of discussion, decide on a timeframe for scheduling an appointment with an Estate Planning Attorney and memorialize the discussion in an aging plan
While estate planning isn’t all about end-of-life, the plan you put in place thoughtfully prepares those around you and affords them the guidance, finances, and permission to provide you with the journey to your final destination that you always envisioned.
Did you know that estate planning can include pet planning details? Traditionally, most people think estate plans are only for people who are married with children, but your furry friends need to be cared for as well. Single people, unmarried partners, non-traditional families, and people in every stage of life need estate planning documents.