For most women, estate planning ranks right up there with a root canal – it’s painful but necessary. If you truly want your loved one’s inheritance protected at the time of your death, you must take some time now to review what plans, if any, you currently have in place and what you want to leave behind. Failing to plan will likely leave a great burden for your loved ones as well as tie up your estate for months or years in court, potentially diminishing any assets or property left behind.
First and foremost, seek the professional guidance of a capable estate planning attorney. They are experts in the legal aspects of estate planning and must stay up-to-date with any changes made to legal statutes. They will ensure that all your wishes are legally sound and carried out to the fullest extent of law. They have a wealth of experience in dealing with estate and inheritance issues and will advise you on the best way to distribute property to your heirs. Remember, just as every person is unique unto themselves, each estate is completely different and should be treated as such. Beware of cookie cutter solutions. Professional guidance at this stage is essential.
Even so, estate planning isn’t just about what happens after your death. It involves what happens to you if you are incapacitated and unable to make decisions for yourself and your family. That being the case, there are certain items every woman should consider having in her estate plan.
Estate Planning for Women: Drafting A Will
This is the most common and important of all documents you create. Without it, the laws of your state of residence, and not necessarily your wishes, are enforced when distributing assets. Even more importantly, a will allows you to designate guardianship decisions for your minor children. When creating a will, you must clearly identify the document as a will and name the executor of your estate. Your executor is responsible for carrying out your final wishes as outlined in the will. Additionally, you must clearly state your wishes for your children, assets, and property.
A Plan for Medical Decisions
In the event that you become incapacitated, what medical procedures do you want performed? Is there a certain point in which you would prefer treatment stopped all together? An Advanced Directive for Medical Decisions, which is similar to a Living Will, can address these issues well ahead of time. Without something concrete in writing, clearly stating your wishes, you will not have the option to chose who makes end of life decisions for you. Remember, once you are incapacitated, it’s too late!
A Power of Attorney
Like the Advanced Directive, a Power of Attorney (POA) is essential in the event of an unforeseen tragedy. If you are not able to make financial decisions for yourself, you need to know that someone you trust will take care of your financial affairs. After all, who will take care of your pets, pay your bills, see that your medical insurance is properly filed, and make sure your minor children are cared for? A POA will allow you to assign someone you trust to oversee those issues.
A HIPAA Release
You may be aware of the many new laws governing the release of medical information. Imagine for a moment your loved one is desperately trying to coordinate with your doctors and insurance to provide you with much needed care but can’t get the necessary medical forms. That’s a headache no one wants, especially when your life may be on the line. Prevent the confusion and take care of this problem before it arises.
Remember, estate planning involves much more than deciding who gets your jewelry when you’re no longer around. It also involves thinking about and planning for all the things that could happen to you and those you care about while you’re still alive, even if you’re incapacitated.
In my financial planning work with women, if a client doesn’t have an up-to-date estate plan, it is always the number one priority that I tell them needs to be addressed.