No one should be left making decisions on your behalf or trying to guess your end-of-life wishes regarding your estate simply because they do not have the correct information. While some of the contents of your estate can remain a mystery until after you pass, consider letting these four people in on your not-so-secret wishes.
As you begin the journey of creating an estate plan, there will be several important conversations you will want to have with your loved ones. These conversations are particularly important if you wish to include these people in your estate plan. With a seemingly never-ending To-Do list, we become so caught up in our day-to-day lives, and we fail to set aside time to discuss our plans for later in life. The urgency to set aside time to get personal affairs in order falls to the bottom of our list, and often never receives that check of completion. Emotions aside, one of the most difficult tasks survivors and beneficiaries face is getting a hold of important documents such as your Will, Living Will, Power of Attorney, and other paperwork specific to carrying out your wishes while you are alive as well as after you pass.
When a person dies, the information in their memory dies with them. Unfortunately, oftentimes, this includes knowing the physical location and contents of essential documents and possessions. While many people are under the impression their wishes outlined in their estate plan must remain a secret, they do so without realizing the effects this could have. Details about your actual net worth need not be disclosed at this time however, we urge you to share some precise information with those you name as your (1) Health Care Proxy/Health Care Representative, (2) Executor, (3) Trustee, and (4) Power of Attorney.
Health Care Proxy/Health Care Representative
Identifying a Health Care Proxy/Health Care Representative is imperative. Should you fall ill and are unable to make health-related decisions for yourself, appointing a person to make health-related decisions on your behalf is a difficult decision. Be sure you identify and notify the person you choose in your Medical Power of Attorney or Living Will; offer an opportunity to talk about it. Following this will be conversations of endless “what if” questions and scenarios, “What if you have a heart attack? What if you are terminally ill? What if your heart stops? Do you wish to be resuscitated? Would you be satisfied carrying out your life on a breathing machine or a ventilator? Where do you stand when it comes to a feeding tube? If any of these questions elicit an emotional response from either yourself or your representative, imagine the difficulty of making these life-or-death decisions in a matter of seconds.
When you name someone a Health Care Proxy/ Health Care Representative, understand this is both humbling and intimidating. Sharing your wishes with those you trust now, helps save others from difficult decisions against your wishes later.
Following your death, your executor is appointed to act on your behalf and handle all tasks related to settling your estate. Their commitment is to follow the instructions and manage the wishes and affairs you outline in your Will. This includes collecting assets, valuing property, paying your bills, safeguarding your assets, and distributing your estate. In some cases, having this conversation comes as a surprise. The person you have in mind may feel unwilling to act on your behalf for many reasons. With this in mind, we cannot stress enough how important it is to discuss your decisions directly with whom you choose to appoint. It is courteous to share this information, but it provides an opportunity for you to explain your wishes and see to it he/she understands the responsibilities this role involves.
When you name a trustee in your Revocable Trust (also called an “Inter Vivos Trust” or “Living Trust”), you are choosing your successor, someone you trust to manage your finances should you become incapacitated and distribute your properties after you die. The role of a trustee involves handing over all of your financial power and discretion. Often adult children, relatives, or a close friend becomes your trustee. Whomever you name as your trustee should always be aware of the trust and its provisions. The role of a trustee in this type of trust can begin at incapacity and continues through death. Your Trustee will be the one to oversee the care you receive if you become ill and transacts any necessary business on your behalf. Following your passing, your Trustee will be the one to contact your attorney to review the details of your estate. This person is also responsible for keeping your beneficiaries informed and inventorying your assets to determine their value. He/she will also be responsible for any partial distributions that are to be paid out, files your final tax returns, and finally distributes assets to the beneficiary as the trust directs.
If you are finding yourself searching through your contacts to determine who you should name as your Trustee, you ought to consider having these conversations before finalizing any documents. In some cases, the person you appoint as your Trustee may act differently towards you or may not wish to have that role at all. If this person is who you trust to manage your financials after you pass, they should be the same person to trust with important details while you are still alive.
Power of Attorney / Attorney-in-Fact
A Power of Attorney is a document prepared by someone which designates another person to act on his or her behalf if he or she is unable to make a business or financial decision for himself/herself during his or her lifetime (i.e. when you are still living, but incapacitated, unconscious or otherwise unavailable). This document grants permission to an individual whom you trust to act as your agent to make important decisions. A Power of Attorney and Attorney-in-Fact are terms sometimes used interchangeably to identify this individual. You can choose to appoint a Power of Attorney or Attorney-in-Fact to assist with personal and financial matters.
As a parent, you may wish to enlist your adult child as your Power of Attorney however, not every child is accepting of this role. There could be several reasons as to why someone, namely your child would prefer to not take on this role. Some factors we neglect to consider when making this decision are proximity, emotional readiness, and familial disagreements that could arise, just to name a few. Though a shortlist of topics to consider, these topics are necessary to consider as you appoint someone and for him/her to consider before accepting the responsibility. Keep in mind, the tasks associated with being a Power of Attorney can be daunting as well as demanding. It is not a role for anyone to assume which is why it is so important to talk to the person you are considering to be sure he/she feels comfortable representing you and your financials.
While you may change who you appoint as executor at any time; it is important to confirm your choice and provide an opportunity to talk openly with that person about your decisions. Perhaps we can attribute this lackadaisical approach as ignorance or perchance our innate fear to face the inevitable; regardless of the reasons surrounding your thoughts; the consequences of our inactions will result in a major headache for those who survive you.