By Christine Steinmetz, J.D., Hotline Attorney
The holiday season is a busy time for everyone. We are decorating homes, preparing meals, baking cookies, visiting loved ones, and buying gifts for others. One thing we often overlook is taking care of others by having our estate plan in place. People often wait to call an attorney for estate planning documents before going on a big trip or having major surgery. However, this is the time of year when the family is together and may be a good time to talk to your loved ones about your estate planning wishes. I think loved ones prefer to know what your wishes are as to your will or trust. It may just be a good time to let them know that you have estate planning documents and where the documents can be found. You do not have to give the documents to them or even tell them what is stated in the documents.
If you do not have estate planning documents in place, you may want to think about putting an estate plan is in place. There are several different documents that make up an estate plan. A will, also known as your Last Will and Testament, is a legal document that contains your instructions about how you want your assets (also known as your estate) distributed upon your death. A trust is a written document that creates a relationship in which a person (or business) holds title to property for the benefit of another person. The terms of the relationship are described in the trust document, also known as the trust agreement. A revocable grantor trust avoids probate because the assets are transferred into the name of the trust, and you avoid owning any property in your name alone at death, and consequently avoid the need for probate administration. The terms of the trust can provide directions to the successor trustee on how to distribute the trust property after the grantor’s death. In this way, the trust acts much like a will, except that no probate court involvement is necessary.
It is also a good time to talk about powers of attorney documents for finances and health care. A Durable Power of Attorney is a legal form that allows a person, called a “Principal”, to transfer financial decision-making powers to another person, called an “Agent”. You can give your agent as much or as little power if you are unable or unavailable to make financial decisions. A Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare is a legal form that allows a person to appoint an agent, called a “Patient Advocate”, to make healthcare decisions for them when they are unable to participate in medical treatment decisions. Modern medicine allows people to prolong their lives through artificial means, such as respirators and dialysis machines. However, if you want to limit these means, you will want to draft a Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare to allow your Patient Advocate to act on your behalf. I find that loved ones want to carry out your wishes; however, they need to know what your wishes are. One of the most difficult decisions loved ones have is regarding your health care wishes. Now that the family is sitting around the table, it may be a good time to explain your desires and beliefs. This is a personal decision and I have found loved ones feel better acting when they know they are carrying out your wishes.
We have several blogs posts on Wills, Trusts, Durable Powers of Attorney, and Health Care Power of Attorneys. Click on the links below to access the information about these documents. You can also contact the Legal Hotline for Michigan Seniors at 1-800-347-5297 and we would be happy to discuss your estate plans.