Estate Documents Seniors Should Have In Place

I was recently asked to spell out the basic things that every senior should have in place, and I came up with eight specific items. While there are certainly more, this is a broad list of the most important legal and practical items.

1. Have Estate Document In Place: There are actually several legal documents related to “Estate Planning” I often speak about, but for this list, I actually mean the document that describes how your assets are allocated and distributed upon your passing. We often have younger clients who opt for a Last Will and Testament as the way to parcel out their estate, but when it comes to seniors it is time to take a harder look at the revocable living trust as a way to avoid the costly, time-consuming, and frustrating probate process your loved ones would have to go through.

2. Put Financial Empowerment Documents in Place: This means having a properly drafted and executed Durable General Power of Attorney and a Nomination of Conservator document. Having the right people in place in the event of incapacity can make all the difference in the world to you if and when you recover as well as keeping things going if you are disabled long-term.

3. Have Health Care Empowerment and Related Documents in Place: Just as important as handling financial matters, having a properly drafted and executed Health Care Power of Attorney and a Nomination of Conservator document means you have the right people in place to make health decisions for you if you can’t. This also means deciding whether or not to have a Living Will in place regarding life support and artificial nutrition.

4. Fund Your Revocable Living Trust: While having the right trust document in place can help you avoid probate, it only works if your assets and beneficiary designations are set to coordinate with the trust. If you think of your trust as the best suitcase in the world, it does you no good to have that suitcase on a vacation in Florida without having packed the right things in it before you left.

5. Review Long Term Care Options: This can mean reviewing long term care insurance, life insurance or annuity options, or even irrevocable trust planning for Medicaid. While you don’t necessarily need to start a dramatic shifting of assets or restructure your financial assets right away, having good information can help you make intelligent decisions ahead of time and not be caught unaware during a crisis. We consider this aspect of planning so important that our Asset Coordinator Mike Brooks provides free financial health checks that specifically incorporate potential future long term care costs in the analysis.

6. Plan Your Funeral Arrangements: This doesn’t have to be a thorough or time-consuming process but giving your heirs, and in particular, your Executors and Trustees, guidance on what type of services are important to you means they won’t overspend or give you a final sendoff different than you wanted. Having these decisions in writing, which may be as simple as determining burial versus cremation, can be a godsend to your family which will already be going through a lot dealing with your passing.

7. State Organ Donation Wishes: Many people don’t realize that just having the “heart” on their license doesn’t specify the purpose for organ donation, so being an organ donor could mean winding up as a cadaver at a medical school. Stating your intentions clearly in the right legal document clears up purposes for organ donation. As well, affirmatively state if you do not want to be an organ donor if that is the case. Remaining silent isn’t a plan.

8. Get Organized: This is as simple as keeping all of your important documents in one place. For my revocable living trust planning clients, they have some version of “The Big Blue Binder” that has places for financial statements, final wishes, important contact information, and, of course, their legal documents. You don’t want your family, trustees, and executors having to search for accounts like we had to do recently on a probate case, only to discover a “missing” bank account with more than $500,000 in it. In addition, because this account wasn’t in a revocable living trust, we had to do an ancillary probate proceeding, hire a local attorney, and pay them a fee designated by state law to come out to about $13,000.

For an expanded discussion in these areas, please check out the video Eight Steps Every Senior Should Take at www.YouTube.com/nclawyerand the audio podcast at www.plainenglishattorney.podbean.com. And please help us out by subscribing and sharing this valuable information.

For more information on the basic legal documents everyone needs, please check out my free e-book Estate Planning Basics through the Linktree account at www.linktr.ee/plainenglishattorney. To contact our office about the financial health check that incorporates projections for long term care costs with Mike Brooks, please contact my law firm’s sister business The Care Assistance Center, LLC at 919-518-8237.