You may be familiar with the saying, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” It’s a significant reason why people set up an estate plan – to be prepared for the unexpected. And, of course, the inevitable.
But estate planning doesn’t end when legal documents are drawn up, executed and placed in a book for another day. Organization and communication are also crucial steps in this process. Without them, a relatively straight-forward process gets sideswiped by confusion, frustration and uncertainty. Ultimately, this costs time and money.
The Rainy Day
It’s common human behavior to think you’ll get around to it when things slow down – our “save-it-for-a-rainy-day” mentality. But what could inevitably happen to that good intention to do it later?
Absolutely nothing if the unexpected happens first.
It could be a tragic accident, a stroke, an emergency surgery, or a life-threatening illness that shuts you down. It’s possible you could end up in critical condition, completely impaired, or hooked up to life-sustaining machinery.
What becomes of that living will or advance health care directive you created for a time such as this? If no one knows this document exists or can’t find it, absolutely nothing.
It’s as if you never had a plan in the first place. Those lost documents hold no power to help you direct the decision-making process when you finally need them to.
This holds true for any of your estate planning documents.
If you become incapacitated or incompetent and your named agent doesn’t have your financial power of attorney or living trust, accounts can’t be accessed and bills can’t be paid. Without a concrete will or living trust in hand, it’s not possible to execute your estate according to your wishes. In fact, if your home has been placed in a trust and no trust can be found, your beneficiaries will have to go through hoops if they choose to sell it.
We’ve received plenty of calls from clients and their family members who had no idea where the original documents were placed. Often, it was at a time when specific documents were urgently needed.
They spent hours digging through rooms, boxes and papers. They tried to pry open a safe or gain access to a bank deposit box. They even located others who might possibly have them in possession. And, of course, they gave our office a call in hopes of obtaining a copy. Yes, we do keep digital copies of the originals in our files. But the original always beats a copy.
However, advanced planning by organizing your documents and communicating what is in them will ensure situations will be handled how you want them to be handled when that time comes.
Organize a secure, permanent location for your originals. Communicate to those responsible where they are and how to access them. Give copies to your agents, your medical practitioners, and financial institutions so they have them when they need them. And even communicate your expectations to your loved ones so they can better handle that burden should the time arrive.
Organization and communication most likely won’t end with your own personal estate plan. It’s a vital part of any estate plan you are party to – whether parents, children, family members, and friends. What holds true for you holds true for them when it comes to making financial and health decisions.
If you’re an agent for power of attorney, get a copy of the document. If you’re an executor or trustee, make sure you know where the document is and how to easily access it. In fact, take it a step further and know what you’re expected to do as an agent, executor or trustee so you’re better equipped when that time arrives.
We know that part of your intention for an estate plan is to ease the burden on your loved ones. But if documents can’t be found after your death, the court will have no choice but to proceed as though you died intestate. That is, you died without an estate plan. Your estate will go through probate where the court will decide who gets your assets rather than you making that final decision.
But you can prevent this from happening. It starts today.