Estate planning is important for future

Thursday, April 7, 2016 2:20 PM

By Wendy Rice

Family and consumer science agent, La Plata County Extension Office

Life is not about waiting for the storms to pass, it's about learning how to dance in the rain.

- Vivian Greene

We find comfort in planning and talking through everything: career, education, work projects, vacations, meals, parties, retirement, family planning, weddings, divorce, financial planning. Regardless of age, no matter how much we plan, the one certainty is life changes-the curves, the bumps or the end. To ignore this doesn't change it but it can make it cumbersome for others and possibly, very expensive! It doesn't just happen to others!

What if your home were burglarized or burned? Do you know what your losses would be for insurance or tax needs? How difficult it could be for someone to "manage your life", even if temporarily, until you can take it back? If someone else needed to stay on top of your bills, to know where your finances are, care for family members or speak on your behalf, how to represent your wishes to medical care providers, or, when necessary, deal with your end of life choices? What do you need to have? Advanced directives are one essential part of your plan. Take a small step forward and commit to a plan for starting your advanced directives.

A good plan should include at least: a will that is current; financial power of attorney (Hint-doesn't need to be an attorney), advanced medical directive (aka medical power of attorney) and a living will (letter of last instruction). A will can be as simple as handwritten on a napkin that is dated and signed or it can be more elaborate. A "durable" power of attorney is someone you appoint that can continue to be effective if you are mentally incapacitated, coma or deceased. The advanced medical directive appoints your designee to make medical decisions as you have requested. Who will be your proxy? Have you had conversations about your wishes, your thoughts and needs with that person? Is it written down and signed by you? Are your beneficiaries current? What about your digital assets - ID and passwords for key on line accounts.

Advance directives need to be kept current and available. Without directives, chaos can result for home, finances and loved ones. Life events (expected or otherwise) can be death, extended travel, hospitalization, loss of consciousness, or major injury/paralysis. Have you prepared your life to minimize problems?

Talk with your medical care provider, lawyer, financial adviser, religious adviser or trusted family member to start your thought process. For most of us these hard conversations become somewhat easier as you get tough issues clarified. Talk about things such as acceptable medical treatments and care; do you want CPR; at what point do you want antibiotics, fluids and food withheld; who do you want to make decisions for you if you're not able to; how will it be paid for; what actually needs to happen when a person dies? Then there are financial decisions, the medical decisions, care options that are each best dealt with when not stressed. Why have you put it off? Attorney? Not going to happen to me for a while? Cost- it doesn't necessarily have to cost anything nor do you need to have an attorney to do it.

Some life events that might trigger need for changes:

. Marriage - one's primary beneficiary typically shifts to new spouse. Savings, investments, life insurance all need change to beneficiary documentation.

. Remarriage - especially when children from previous marriage are involved, the will, beneficiary status is particularly important to ensure new spouse as well as children from previous marriage are not disinherited.

. Separation, divorce - state laws, beneficiary designations, retirement plans and insurance policies can be impacted.

. Relocating to a new state - different laws from state to state make it beneficial to have existing documents reviewed by attorney to see about necessary modifications.

. Sale of business, large inheritance or jackpot - to minimize taxes, estate tax specific to your state.

. Addition of child or grandchild to family - gifting, college funds, inheritance, formation of 529 fund.

. Beneficiary with special needs - if benefits are received from state, how should inheritance be drafted to prevent disqualifying, though to be used to augment needs.

Learn more at the Estate Planning Series I'll be offering at Pine River Library Tuesday, April 12; Tuesday, April 19; and Thursday, April 21 from 5:45 to 7:45 p.m. Registration is required; call the Library at 884-2222, ext. 510.