Planning for Your People and Why You Need to Do It
By Kiley Stuchlik, Attorney at Law
Perhaps you’re thinking that you don’t own an “estate” and that estate planning is only for the rich and elderly. I’ll admit that estate planning is not the most accurate term for the type of planning we, at Stuchlik law, help people engage in. More accurately, we engage in people planning. What I mean by people planning is that we help you plan for the most important people in your life, including yourself. While we plan for your death, we also plan for events that may occur during your lifetime.
For example, if you are a parent with minor children, we can help you get a custodial power of attorney executed so that should you go on a trip without your children, you can designate someone to take care of your children and you can legally authorize that person to make important decisions on their behalf while you are away.
Other documents that plan for lifetime events include a durable financial power of attorney (“POA”) and a living will and durable power of attorney for healthcare. The durable POA can be used for convenience when you cannot physically be somewhere to sign. Also, because the POA is durable, it survives your incapacity and can be used out of necessity. For example, if you get in an accident and become mentally incompetent but need to sign something, your agent under the durable POA can sign on your behalf. Having the durable POA in place could save your loved ones the time, hassle, and expense of initiating a costly court conservatorship proceeding in order to manage your financial affairs upon your incapacity.
The living will and durable POA for healthcare allows you to provide guidance on your end-of-life care and also allows you to designate someone as your agent to make health-care decisions for you in the event that you are unable to communicate those decisions.
And yes, we deal with your property, your “estate,” as part of your people planning. We help you determine who gets what assets and who will be in charge of distributing your estate assets. Those decisions are memorialized in a Last Will and Testament or through a Living Trust with a Pour-Over Will.
However, even a will or trust can provide critical planning for your people. For instance, if you are preparing a will or trust at a stage in life when you have young children, it is a good idea to include trust provisions so that should you die when your children are still young, those provisions ensure that your assets will be managed for your children’s benefit by someone you trust until your children reach each a certain age when you feel they will be responsible enough to receive your assets outright.
Another critical way in which these documents can help serve people is through special needs or supplemental needs trust planning. For example, if you have a disabled adult that you want to provide money to (either before or after your death) but you know he or she is receiving government, means-tested benefits, you should. provide those funds through a carefully drafted supplemental needs trusts so as to ensure that your gift does not disqualify the individual from the government benefits. Sadly, before attorneys engaged in this type of trust planning, people were simply advised to disinherit their disabled loved ones.
As a parent of young ones myself, I would be remiss not to mention that the most critical objective parents of minor children can achieve through planning is to designate who will take care of their children, both physically and financially, in the event that both parents/legal guardians pass away. Through nomination of individuals to serve in these roles, you can provide critical instruction to a judge who will ultimately have the task of formally appointing people to fulfill those roles. You can also document anyone you would not want to serve in those roles. Without these instructions, the judge will have to rely solely on the testimony of those who willingly participate in court proceedings to appoint a guardian and conservator for your children.
If you’ve made it this far, I hope that you now understand why, regardless of the size of your “estate,” you need to engage in planning for you and your people and you understand that such planning is not just for your death but also for events that may occur during your life. If you’re ready to move forward with planning for your people, please contact us. We provide affordable, flat fee services.
Steve Stuchlik - Attorneys at Stuchlik Law PLLC practicing estate planning, probate, real property, and local government law.