by Joy Rosenthal, Esq.~One of the greatest gifts you can give your family is to plan for your end of life. You will need to re-evaluate your plans at life’s transitions, for instance, when you have gotten married or divorced, or when you have children. It is also crucial if you have a non-traditional family structure.
What documents do you need?
1. Your Will
A will (or last will and testament) specifies what you would like to happen to your property when you die. Think about what you own and who would you like to give it to. While most people leave their possessions to family members, you might also think about favorite charities. You do not have to leave equal amounts to each child, although you might want to consider family harmony if you leave unequal amounts.
If you have young children, your will should name a guardian for your children if their other parent is not available.
The guardian of the person of your children is the person who will actually raise them. Some parents look for someone who will disrupt their children’s lives as little as possible. Some look for the person whose values are most like their own.
The guardian of the property is the person who will manage any money you may leave to your child. This should be someone who is unflinchingly honest, and who will keep your children’s best interests at heart. In addition, the guardian of the property should be able to keep good financial records. They might have to prepare an annual report regarding the children’s finances. These may be the same person or two different people who will work together.
Finally, you will choose an executor – someone who will make sure your wishes are carried out.
2. Health care proxy (Medical Power of Attorney)
This document that names a person who will make medical decisions for you in case you are alive but cannot make decisions for yourself. It is important to choose one person who will be accessible and level-headed in an emergency. You should always name a successor proxy in case your first choice is not available.
3. Advance Directives (Living Will)
End-of-life decisions can be extremely difficult for a family in grief. Having a living will takes some of the pressure off your loved ones by telling your doctors and/or your health care proxy what decisions you want made regarding different kinds of life support. You can also use the living will to make clear your wishes about organ donation. You should also let your family members know your wishes.
4. Financial Power of Attorney
The power of attorney, like the health care proxy, also takes effect when you are alive but no longer able to manage your own finances. This enables your proxy to be able to pay your bills, and have full access to your bank accounts. Your agent must be impeccably honest, careful, good with money, and willing to be held accountable for her or his actions. It is helpful if the agent has attitudes towards money that are similar to your own, or at least would follow the direction to spend or invest the way you would.
5. Beneficiary designations
Think about any accounts you named a beneficiary. This would include IRA or pension accounts, life insurance policies, some bank accounts, just as a few examples. The value of these items is included in your estate, but your beneficiaries get them directly, without going through any court processes. It is important to review them periodically and update your beneficiaries if necessary.
It is always difficult to face our mortality, and to prepare such documents. But good planning, and letting your loved ones know your wishes, can save them years of emotional distress – it is one of the best ways your can take care of your family.