By Hillary Dawn, Attorney
Faced with the current global health crisis, many individuals and families are asking themselves questions like, “What if something were to happen? Should I update the Will I had done in 1983? Do I even have an estate to plan? Are my current documents enough? How do I protect my assets for my children?”
All of these questions and more can be answered by a knowledgeable estate planning attorney. While there are document production websites like LegalZoom, those sites cannot identify your unique goals and situation to recommend the appropriate documents or provisions. Instead, those sites provide you with fill-in-the-blank documents with no analysis of what you actually need or why. Estate planning is never a “one size fits all” and it is dangerous at worst and wasteful at best to simply sign what a computer algorithm says you need. And, LegalZoom cannot help you with the proper witnessing and notarization requirements to ensure your documents are actually valid and effective!
During a time like this, there are three main documents that are ideal to have in place to protect your assets (i.e. your estate) and your family should something happen, and an estate planning attorney can work with you to tailor them to your needs: (i) The Last Will & Testament, (ii) Power of Attorney, and (iii) Living Will.
When people talk of estate planning, most commonly they are thinking of a Last Will and Testament. Your Will lays out your wishes for distributing your property to family members, friends, charities, and other entities upon your death. Your Will also names an executor (or executrix) to manage your estate after you die. Some Wills are very simple, but others require complicated distribution schemes, estate tax planning, and even trusts. Most people think that his or her Will is simple when they begin to discuss it, but then they quickly realize that a Will can be used to manage common tricky situations, like minor grandchildren, blended families, or even incentives for “black sheep” relatives. Only an experienced estate planning attorney can correctly guide you down the complex path of drafting options.
Power Of Attorney
A power of attorney names someone to make decisions on your behalf, should you become unable to do so yourself. A valid power of attorney can allow a trusted individual (your “attorney-in-fact”) to ensure your bills are paid in the event that you cannot, manage your assets on your behalf, and make medical decisions for you. Your attorney-in-fact can only act in your best interests and according to your expressed wishes. Powers of attorney can be effective immediately, or can be effective only after your doctor says you are incompetent. Additionally, your attorney-in-fact’s authority can be very general and broad, or it can be very limited and specific. It is important to talk to an attorney about what powers you want your attorney-in-fact to have and when the power of attorney should become effective.
Many people have heard of a living will but aren’t sure what it means. A living will, also called an advance directive or directive to physicians, is a document that allows you to make end of life decisions in advance. Typically, this document instructs your family and healthcare attorney-in-fact that you prefer to die naturally instead of being kept on life support. There are many other provisions that can make this document unique; such as no blood infusions if you are Jehovah’s Witness; no artificial nutrition or hydration; or whether you want pain medication during the dying process. This document is not the same as Washington’s Death With Dignity Act and it is different than a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate).
There are other documents that may be ideal to your unique situation, such as different types of trusts, community or separate property agreements, even transfer on death deeds. There really are endless options to address each individual or family’s specific needs and desires, and a one-size-fits-all approach through LegalZoom won’t provide you with the flexibility or certainty you need.
Meeting With Your Lawyer During Quarantine or Stay At Home Orders
Although the Washington Stay Home, Stay Healthy order has closed the doors of many businesses, your local estate planning attorneys are still able to work with you to prepare an estate plan that fits you and your family. Here at VSSF, we are able and ready to meet with you either telephonically or through video conferencing. A real, live, experienced estate planning attorney can meet with you remotely to discuss your unique situation and provide you with knowledge, practical advice, and excellently drafted documents prepared to your exact needs (not what an algorithm thinks most people “want”)! When it comes to signing, there are some options available, even during the shutdown. You can discuss with your attorney ways to make sure you get your documents done, signed, and ready for use, even under the Stay Home order.
If you have additional questions, call Van Siclen, Stocks & Firkins.