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June 09. 2014 12:47AM

Know the Law: Formal estate plan spares your loved ones heartache


 

My husband and I have careers that will never lead to any significant wealth, so we do not have any formal estate plan. We lead a simple, healthy lifestyle, have no children, and are in our marriage for the long haul. A formal plan doesn’t seem our style. Won’t our will, and our end-of-life intentions shared between us, suffice?

A staggering 70 percent of Americans die every day without a formal estate plan, leaving families and loved ones to wrangle over decisions made on their behalf. It is perfectly understandable to want to avoid thinking about one’s own demise, however, it’s important to consider the very real consequences of not having a plan.

The estate plan directs to whom, when and how everything you own, up to and including life insurance, will be distributed. It also appoints people you trust to handle your financial and health-care decisions, avoiding often heart-wrenching conflicts, delays and additional expense upon your death or incapacity.

An estate plan consists of five documents: health care and financial powers of attorney and living will (called “advance directives”), will, and possibly a trust. Even if you currently have some or all of these documents, it is important to periodically review and update your plan because your personal circumstances and tax laws change, and your named agents may no longer be available or be the right choice.

Advance directives, which are triggered by incapacity during life, are sometimes more important than your Will. Everyone over the age of 18 should have an advance directive, as it will avoid the necessity of your loved ones going to court to obtain a guardianship should you become incapacitated.

The health care and financial powers of attorney allow you to appoint people you trust to make health-care and financial decisions upon incapacity. The living will states your desire to not be kept alive by using extraordinary measures if you are so far gone there is no hope for your recovery. At death, individually owned assets (excluding retirement, jointly held and life insurance assets) will be distributed in accordance with your will. Even though you have no children, and do not anticipate a second marriage, a trust is useful if you have a taxable estate or simply want to spare your loved ones the expense, delay and public nature of probate court.

In conclusion, there are very undesirable consequences of not having an estate plan that you must consider. If you don’t state your intentions formally, someone else will make these decisions for you, and you may not like the outcome.

Alexandra Breed can be reached at alexandra.breed@mclane.com. Know the Law is a bi-weekly column sponsored by The McLane Law Firm. We invite your questions of business law. Questions and ideas for future columns should be addressed to: Know the Law, The McLane Law Firm, P.O. Box 888, Manchester, NH 03101 or emailed to knowthelaw@mclane.com. Know the Law provides general legal information, not legal advice. We recommend that you consult a lawyer for guidance specific to your particular situation.



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