What is your plan? Whether you are just starting a family, in the midst of raising kids, looking ahead to retirement, or living your best post-work life on the coast, having a plan is a must. And guess what? Everyone can benefit from having an estate plan. Truth be told, the sooner you plan, the more you can potentially save. Whether your goals include living a tax-free life in your retirement, seeing to it that your loved ones are provided for after you are gone, or maybe you are just starting to think about ways to protect your hard-earned money and property from the government or would-be creditors. Whatever the goal, planning saves time and money.
…But don’t just take my word for it. Let’s look at some common questions that arise in the absence of a plan.
What happens if something happens to me, I don’t have a General Durable Power of Attorney?
- You have yet to appoint a legal decision maker! Who will handle paying or switching over bills? What happens if you become delinquent? Who will negotiate settlement payments on your behalf? Who will apply for needed government benefits? Does anyone have access to your individually held accounts? What if someone, like a spouse or adult child, needs access to your 401k or IRA? Who will help you take the estate planning steps necessary to protect assets ahead of a Medicaid qualification? If you own or co-own real property, what happens if you need to sell that real property? If you don’t have a power of attorney and something traumatic happens, will you need a guardian? Who would be your guardian and what sort of legal fees are involved? Could you avoid guardianship all together by having a General Durable Power of Attorney in place?
What happens if something happens to me, and I don’t have a Healthcare Power of Attorney?
- You have yet to appoint a legal decision maker! Who will advocate for you when you cannot speak for yourself? Will they know what you want? How would they pull medical records protected under HIPAA or seek a second opinion? What authority do they have to check a medical provider? What happens to you if you need long term care? Have you laid out clear instructions regarding burial and the end of life?
What happens if I pass away in NC without a Last Will and Testament or Trust?
- You have yet to provide clear instructions to the people you leave behind! In the absence of a legal instrument providing instruction on how to pass property at your passing, the property you leave behind will be distributed to your heirs at law in accordance with the laws of Intestate Succession in North Carolina. Do you know who that would be? Were these the people you intended to receive that property? What happens to specific pieces of heirloom jewelry or items of sentimental value? Are you leaving behind a mess for your loved ones to have deal with? What is probate and how long does it take? What is the cost associated with a probate case? How does real property clear through an estate down to my heirs? What about partial interests in property? When multiple people pass away without providing clear instructions through a will or a trust, it can have a spiderweb effect that leaves behind a tangled mess. The result is that vast amounts of time, energy, and resources are spent on the estate administration process. Could this have been avoided? Does a Last Will and Testament give me any protection? How is a Last Will and Testament different from a Trust? What is the best fit for me?
What happens if I don’t have a Living Will?
- A Living Will is not the same as a Last Will and Testament. A Living Will is best understood as being your voice when you can longer speak. It is your decision that you make ahead of time, manifested in a legal document, that proclaims your desire to die a natural death. With the advances in science and technology, the human body can be kept alive long after the mind fails. The Living Will speaks to those moments. In the absence of a living will, there is no legal expression of your intent. As such, the burden often falls on your loved ones to make those final decisions.
The documents referenced throughout this article are considered to be part of the “foundation” of an estate plan. And it makes sense…You have to equip yourself with information before you can put a plan in place. Once implemented, the foundational documents lay the groundwork for more advanced planning. The fact is that no one has a crystal ball. No one knows when their time is up. In the face of such uncertainty, consider yourself, as well as your loved ones, and make the days count by getting your affairs in order. Reach out today to schedule your free consultation with our team of professionals at McIntyre Elder Law and let us help you put your plan in place.
J. Therron Causey
Estate Planning and Elder Law Attorney
112 S. Tryon St. Ste 760
Charlotte, NC 28284