A scary health diagnosis can be emotionally and logistically challenging for many reasons. For instance, how can you take care of your family if you’re physically incapacitated? In addition to working closely with your medical providers, consider these three legal tips:
- Check your estate plan with your attorney to make sure it is up to date.
Do you count yourself among the 42 percent of American adults with a will or trust? If not, take action to start planning. Even if you do have an estate plan, review it. Maybe one of your heirs got married or died. Maybe you’d like to add or remove people from your will. Or perhaps your personal representative is no longer capable of handling your estate. In any event, make sure you have designated alternates for all your important decision-makers: your personal representative, legal guardian, healthcare agent, and trustee.
Review (or create) your healthcare directives to ensure that those you trust to make medical decisions in the event of your incapacity are properly named. This will avoid your family (yes, even your spouse) from having to go through a court process called a conservatorship just to be designated to be your decision-maker and care-taker. In addition, review your wishes and instructions for medical care and end-of-life. If you live in California, this should include speaking with your doctor about a Physician Order for Life Sustaining Treatment (POLST). They will discuss with you in greater detail about the options and whether you should have one in place for you. Handling this ahead of time will give you and your family peace of mind while also relieving them of a possible legal mess and emotional burden later.
- Consider passing control to your successor trustee/agent so you can focus on your health.
If you find yourself overwhelmed by having to split your focus between managing your health and managing day-to-day responsibilities, consider relying on your successor trustee. By granting your successor trustee the authority to manage the assets in your trust, you can alleviate significant stress and save time. Remember that you trusted this person enough to manage your assets in your absence, you should be able to trust them to manage your assets while you are alive. Keep in mind that you can always take control back if you want in the future.
If you do not have a trust, but other financial matters are consuming your time, consider appointing an agent under a financial power of attorney to assist with managing your finances.
- Make sure your current assets are properly coordinated with your estate plan and/or funded trust.
Evaluate your assets to make sure nothing falls through the cracks. Consult with your estate planning attorney and tax professional to make sure you’re avoiding the common mistake of assets not being properly titled. In order for the trust to be funded, the assets need to be titled in the name of the trust. Also, review any beneficiary designations to ensure they match up with your overall estate plan. Because the distribution will be made according to who is listed on the beneficiary designation form, you want to make sure that this is not undoing the work of your estate plan.
If you live in one of the states like California that allows for the inclusion of a personal property memorandum, you may be able to revise the distribution of personal property (i.e. your personal belongings, collections, heirlooms, etc.) by simply revising your list without amending your will or trust. If not, you will need to revise your will or trust to reflect any changes. If you maintain a separate record of account information, passwords, and essential documents, take steps to update this as well.
Managing your health should be your top priority. Now is the time to lean on those you trust. If you need any assistance with ensuring your affairs are in order, please feel free to give us a call.
Kevin Snyder is a husband, father, and an Orange County estate planning attorney and elder law attorney at Snyder Law, PC in Irvine, California. He’s all about family and passionate about estate planning, elder law, and teaching others how to protect what matters most.