"Gentlemen, this is a football." So began Vince Lombardi's legendary pep talk to his Green Bay Packers football team. Coach Lombardi and his team went on to create a football dynasty.
So it is with estate planning – it all starts with a shared understanding of the fundamentals.
There are myriad legal strategies you might consider implementing as you design your estate plan. Regardless, there are a handful of "must have" estate planning documents you must create before anything else.
You should have: (i) a will – everyone needs a will; (ii) a healthcare directive for decisions concerning treatment when you cannot make or communicate your own wishes; (iii) financial and health care powers of attorney authorizing "agents" you know and trust to take care of your financial matters and make your health care decisions when you are unable to do so yourself; (iv) a legal authorization that allows a loved one or friend to access to your medical information; and (v) a trust (based on your situation) to manage, protect assets and eventually distribute your assets.
Will. A will is a legal document that describes your intentions for your estate when you pass away. Without a will a person would die "intestate." In that case, state law divides and distributes the estate to surviving family members based on their relationship to the deceased. No consideration is given under state law to how "close" such family members were to the decedent (or if they fought constantly). Contrary to popular belief, a will has absolutely no legal authority until the maker of the will dies … and the will is given to the proper probate court within the time limit proscribed by state law. Accordingly, your will has no authority to appoint financial or health care decision-makers (agents) for you if incapacitated by an illness or injury (more on that later). In many states, a will is required to appoint the guardians (backup parents) in the event minor children are orphaned. What could be more important than appointing the people you want to rear your children if you are not around?
Health Care Directive. A healthcare directive, often known by other names such as an "advance directive," is a document you sign now to specify the type and extent of medical and personal care you would want later were you unable to make and communicate your own decisions. Everyone age 18 and older needs to have this fundamental legal document signed, a copy on file with their physician, and a copy given to each of their appointed agents.
How does a healthcare directive help my family?
A healthcare directive appoints the persons (whether in order of priority or as a "team") you have selected to make end-of-life decisions, so your family and the medical staff know what to do (or what not to do). A directive can take some of the worry and anxiety out of your final days for your family, as they will know your wishes when it comes to making tough choices. With that in mind, choose your "point persons" carefully. They will be charged with carrying out some potentially difficult decision and, perhaps, difficult family members.
Power of Attorney. This is a legal document giving another person — sometimes called "the attorney-in-fact" or "agent" — the legal authority to make decisions on business matters and other issues on your behalf. The exact scope of the power given is spelled out in the document itself. These powers cease when the maker passes away; they also may no longer be in effect when the maker becomes unable to make or communicate decisions. A "durable" power of attorney should be used in that situation, or a healthcare directive.
Permission to Access Personal Medical Information. This document should be right on top of or specifically incorporated within your healthcare directive. It is your authorization for named persons to view your medical records and discuss your care with medical providers. Without this document or specific authorization, there is the possibility your doctor may decide not to speak to your designated "point persons" — the persons you want to make those tough decisions about your care if you are in an unresponsive state.
Trusts. These come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Generally speaking, a trust is a legal entity with at least three parties: the creator of the trust, the trustee, and the beneficiary. With most "revocable living trusts," you are all three parties. Depending on your circumstances, there could be advantages to establishing a trust. The most common advantage is avoiding probate. This can help streamline administration of your estate should you become incapacitated and upon your death, keeping your plans private in the process. Some irrevocable trusts may protect trust assets from creditors. For example, trusts established under a will or revocable living trust can protect the inheritance for loved ones from squandering, divorces, lawsuits and bankruptcies.
It depends on a great many factors. Consult an experienced estate planning attorney to thoroughly review your situation and your objectives.
Mr. Weston really appreciates his clients and understands their specific needs. He is a great asset to have on your side.
Matt Fedor helped my family and I out with a very sensitive issue. His knowledge, compassion and willingness to listen made us feel confident that we were in the right hands.
When my business was served with a lawsuit, Mr. Camargo listened to my issues, filed the appropriate legal response and quickly achieved a great result.
Fedor, Camargo & Weston PLC serves clients throughout the state of Michigan. FCW is a full service Estate Planning Law Firm specializing in fundamental estate planning, wills & trust planning, powers of attorney, elder law, Medicaid application & qualification, long-term care planning, probate & estate administration, probate litigation, civil litigation, estate & trust litigation, Medicaid crisis planning, special needs & disability planning, veterans benefits, Aid & Attendance qualification, charitable planning, estate tax planning, business succession and sales, and asset protection. FCW serves individuals, families and business owners throughout the Birmingham, Bloomfield, and Troy, Michigan areas, and all throughout the state of Michigan. Google+