THE COMPASSIONATE ACT OF ESTATE PLANNING
The aim of this article is not to delve deeply into the intricacies of estate planning, but to share the potential dire consequences of not having an estate plan in place.
Any discussion of estate planning must commence with defining the term “Estate”. Estate is defined as any real or personal property that is owned by a person. An estate plan is a deliberate and well thought out plan for not only the disposition of one’s worldly belongings, but also one’s own physical body.
Why is putting in place an estate plan prior to our passing a compassionate act?
As an example, in 2005, the nation was gripped by the news of Terri Schiavo, a woman in Florida who was mentally and physically incapacitated due to a cardiac arrest she had suffered in 1990. As a result she suffered massive brain damage and was left comatose and in a persistent vegetative state. Because she had no “estate plan” to include a “Medical Directive to Physicians” or a “Medical Power of Attorney”, Ms. Schiavo was kept artificially alive while her family fought a long, drawn-out battle encompassing 14 appeals and five federal lawsuits. The emotional and financial toll on her family was incalculable. Had Ms.
Schiavo executed either of the above-referenced estate planning documents, her relatives would not have been left to divine what her wishes were for 14 arduous and emotionally taxing years of litigation.
The area of estate planning is a vast and complex area of the law depending on each person’s circumstances. Invariably, each person has “specific and unique” wishes that are particular to their own circumstances and life.
What are the critical elementary steps in establishing a basic estate plan? First, create a list of people whom you wish to gift, devise or bequest any of your worldly belongings. Secondly, have a concrete plan for whom you wish to gift what asset to which person or persons. Third, if you have minor children, designate a guardian in the event you or the other biological parent are not living. Fourth, if you have a business or business dealings, designate a person whom you trust implicitly to handle your business affairs according to your wishes. Fifth, project forward to the day when you will or may be physically and mentally incapacitated. Whom do you wish to authorize to make health care decisions on your behalf? Also, whom do you wish to appoint as your own guardian to take care of your physical needs in the event
you do not have children, spouse or any friends or loved ones that can come to your aid at a time that you are most vulnerable physically and mentally? Assuming you are mentally incapacitated, whom will be vested with decision making authority to carry out your wish to either be placed in a nursing home or have permanent home health care, assuming you have the assets or means to have such an arrangement?
Once the above criteria have been met, you are ready to execute the documents that will comprise basic estate planning for yourself:
I. LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT
II. STATUTORY DURABLE POWER OF ATTORNEY
III. STATUTORY MEDICAL POWER OF ATTORNEY
IV. MEDICAL DIRECTIVE TO PHYSICIANS
V. APPOINTMENT OF GUARDIAN FOR YOURSELF
VI. APPOINTMENT OF GUARDIAN FOR CHILDREN
In summary, addressing your needs by creating an estate plan is a compassionate act for your loved ones who are in the midst of grief and bereavement.