As Certified Financial Planners, we are constantly asking “what if” questions to determine whether our clients’ plans can weather various unexpected scenarios. In the face of the current pandemic, many of us, whether CFPs or not, are asking some profound “what if” questions, including “what if I were to fall ill tomorrow? And worse, what if I didn’t recover?”
When you find yourself asking these questions, also ask whether your estate plan reflects your current wishes. The relevant documents are:
• Durable power of attorney:
o Names who you would like to manage your finances and property (including digital assets, such as email and social media accounts) on your behalf while you are still alive but unable to manage your own affairs, perhaps due to incapacity, perhaps because you are in the hospital or because you are out of the country.
o In the event of incapacity, without a durable power of attorney in place (even if you are married), the probate court may need to appoint a guardian to act on your behalf, which can be a costly, emotionally draining and time consuming process, particularly during a pandemic.
• Advance Health Care Directive
o Names who you would like to make health-care decisions on your behalf if you are incompetent or incapacitated.
o If you are over the age of 18 and don’t have an advance health care directive, the probate court may need to appoint a guardian to make these decisions on your behalf.
• Last will and testament:
o Determines how assets held in your individual name without a beneficiary designation will be distributed when you die, who will serve as executor of your estate, and, if you have minor children, who will be their guardian. If you don’t have a will, the probate court will decide on the above according to state law.
• Living trust:
o A contract that creates an “entity” to hold your assets that can avoid the need for probating your estate (as long as you “fund” the trust with your assets). If revocable, you can change the terms of the trust at any time while you are alive.
It is also a good idea to review your beneficiary designations to determine whether they reflect your current wishes.
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