Most people understand the importance of having their affairs in order. Thorough estate planning can help prevent family disputes and take a great deal of grief and confusion off of loved ones’ shoulders. It also ensures people’s final wishes are followed and the assets they leave behind go to their intended beneficiaries.
Despite the value of estate planning, at least 33 percent of Americans avoid this matter. It can be a complicated process, and most people don’t even know where to start. It’s not exactly a pleasant topic, either. Because of that, people often try to put it off as long as possible.
Unfortunately, many end up waiting until it’s too late. No one knows what might happen in the future, and for many, the end comes sooner than expected. If you’re concerned about a loved one’s final wishes, helping him or her obtain estate planning services can bring a great deal of clarity to the situation.
Delving Deeper into Estate Planning
Initiating a conversation with a loved one about estate planning is the first step of many. Of course, it can also be the most difficult one. While several details will ultimately come into play, simply asking said loved one whether he or she has a plan for the future may be all it takes to get the process underway.
Knowledge Is Power
One of the first measures to take is to learn about essential documents and details. As your loved one if anyone knows where he or she keeps crucial paperwork, like real estate deeds, vehicle titles, birth certificates, life insurance documents, financial records, and such. Ideally, those items should be kept together in a single location.
Far too many people pass away or lose their mental faculties without anyone knowing where those documents are or having the answers to other important questions. Assure your loved one that sharing those details with you or another trusted person can make a world of difference.
If your loved one hasn’t gathered vital documents, obtained life insurance, or handled other relevant points, offer to help. Create a checklist of necessary paperwork to get in order. From there, it’s time to encourage him or her to take further action.
How Do I Help a Parent Create a Will?
Wills are among the previously mentioned essential documents. They dictate a person’s chosen heirs and which assets each beneficiary receives. Living wills detail people’s wishes for medical treatment and ongoing care if they find themselves unable to make those decisions when the time comes.
Without a will, the division of a person’s worldly possessions could be up in the air after their death. Even points like whether they’re resuscitated or which nursing home they’re transferred to in the event of an illness, injury, or dementia could become a serious point of contention among family members.
Templates for wills are available online to help get the process started. Sit down with mom or dad and create a list of all his or her assets. Find out how those items should be distributed among survivors. Keep in mind, though, these are only the first steps. Getting legal counsel involved ensures the will is properly finalized and no important details have been left out of the mix.
Powers of Attorney
For a living parent who is mentally sound, appointing a conservator or executor is advised. Encourage dad or mom to choose a close family member who can be trusted to make decisions about healthcare and financial matters if he or she becomes unable to handle those details. These responsibilities can be doled out to you or another relative. They can also be divided up among your siblings, adult children, aunts and uncles, or other family members.
Estate Planning on Behalf of a Mentally Unsound Grandparent
People have the right to appoint trusted loved ones to make important medical decisions on their behalf. They can also name someone to handle their finances and additional matters. This person is known as an agent or attorney-in-fact and has power of attorney for the person in question. A person must have full control of their mental faculties to appoint this person, though.
If a loved one becomes mentally incapacitated before granting someone power of attorney, the situation becomes a bit more complicated. At that point, you’d need to go to court to obtain adult guardianship or conservatorship. You’d also need to prove that you are capable of handling all the responsibilities involved.
Other people could certainly contest your right or capability to have power of attorney over your grandparent. This responsibility typically falls to the next of kin. If your grandparent has a surviving spouse, even if the spouse isn’t related to you by blood, conservatorship might naturally go to him or her. Otherwise, it may fall to your parents or an aunt or uncle. You’d be next in line. Bypassing the hierarchy will require help from a legal professional.
Gaining Power of Attorney Over an Aunt or Uncle
As noted, there’s a hierarchy of heirs that’s strictly followed for those who have no will or living will in place. If you’re trying to help an aunt or uncle who’s unable to make decisions on their own behalf, others may be in line ahead of you. A surviving spouse may be the one who automatically becomes conservator or guardian.
From there, your cousins, who are your aunt or uncle’s biological children, would be next in line. Your parents or other aunts and uncles who are biologically related to the one in question might come next in the hierarchy. Perhaps those relatives are unwilling or unable to take on the responsibilities of being executor or guardian, though. Maybe you feel they don’t have your aunt or uncle’s best interests at heart.
It’s possible to become your aunt or uncle’s guardian or conservator, but the process is a bit complicated. First, you’d need to petition the court for guardianship. That may entail having an emergency conservator appointed and having your relative’s bank accounts frozen to protect them in the interim. You may also need to prove you’re biologically related and build a case for why you should be granted power of attorney.
Estate Planning for a Friend Who Has No Heirs
When people have no surviving relatives, or they don’t want to leave their worldly possessions to any of their relatives, they often think estate planning is a waste of time and energy. Few things could be further from the truth. Without a will, their assets could become property of the state. In the latter situation, their estate could be divided among the very relatives they don’t want to become beneficiaries.
If you have a friend who has no heirs, you could encourage him or her to divide the estate among charitable organizations. The estate could also be willed to his or her church. Your friend could even stipulate that his or her estate be liquidated and the money be allocated to local schools, community centers, or nursing homes.
These days, it’s becoming more common for people with no heirs to leave their assets to friends and neighbors, so that’s also an option. Talk with your friend about organizations he or she is passionate about and offer help with deciding which ones should receive portions of the estate. Above all else, emphasize the importance of having a plan in place. At the very least, implore your friend to lay out his or her healthcare wishes so they’ll be followed if he or she becomes incapacitated.
Estate Planning Services for All Situations
Estate planning may not be a comfortable topic to discuss with loved ones, but it shouldn’t be ignored. If a loved one has approached you about the subject or you’re concerned about someone’s final wishes, encourage that person to start planning ahead. For a loved one who’s no longer capable of getting his or her affairs in order, you may need to intervene on that person’s behalf.
Regardless of the circumstances, legal representation is essential. Even a seemingly minor oversight or loophole could cause major problems. Having an attorney involved in the estate planning process can help to prevent such issues. At The Estate Preservation Law Firm, we’re here to help with all aspects of the estate planning process. Feel free to refer your loved one to us or visit us yourself for further assistance.