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The Plain English Attorney

By Grace Kim, Intern

You’ve spent your entire life accumulating hard earned assets, and now it’s time to protect them. If your first step was to begin to establish an estate plan, you’ve taken an extremely important first step. However, attempting to set up a legal estate plan alone or even worse with the help of a less-than-stellar attorney can be frustrating, confusing and complicated. However, it doesn’t need to be! The right attorney can make the process easy and seamless.

If you are armed with the help of the right attorney, there are really only four questions to be concerned with.


Who do you trust to make financial decisions on your behalf?

It’s a scenario none of us like to think about, but what will happen to your finances in the event that you are sick or otherwise unable take care of your finances? Who will pay your bills or handle your checkbook? This is why it is so important to have a financial advocate in your corner. That’s not to say that your financial advocate needs to be a highly trained financial advisor. On the contrary, the most important qualification they should have is your complete trust. This person should be someone who spends money wisely, and can be trusted to make financial decisions in your best interest. Be sure to have two backup options lined up just in case your first choice is unable or unwilling to take on the responsibility.

Who do you trust to make medical decisions on your behalf?

Your finances are important, but what about your health and wellbeing? It’s an unfortunate situation that happens every day in this country. A loved one suddenly falls ill or is otherwise unable to make sound medical decisions. Sure, doctors and other healthcare professionals are there to guide and provide advice, but ultimately hard-to-make decisions such as continued life support are in the hands of family members and other loved ones. The debate over who is actually legally empowered to make medical decisions can add even more stress and frustration to an already incredibly difficult situation.

An important aspect of establishing an estate plan is giving your medical advocates the legal ability to make decisions on your behalf. Your choice should first and foremost be someone you trust to keep your best interest the primary focus point of their decision making. They should be medically curious, and willing and able to ask the tough questions others may want to avoid. And importantly, as the title “medical advocate” suggests, they should be willing to go as far as firing a doctor if they feel you are not getting the very best of care. In line with the financial power of attorney decision, you should be sure to line up two back up choices in case your first choice is unable or unwilling to take on this responsibility.

How will your estate be distributed?

This question can really be simplified to the following; Who gets what, when and how? The most common way to consider this is through percentages. Say you have 3 children;  then your estate can be distributed easily, giving each child roughly one third. However, this also brings up the uncomfortable question of the flow of money. What would happen if one of your beneficiaries were to pass on before you? Does that particular inheritance then pass on to the children of your child? If this is true in your case, then consider the age of inheritance. Most people believe that an 18 year old is not ready to handle a sizeable inheritance, however what age is best? In most cases, somewhere between age 30 and 40 seems to be the age at which inheritances are turned over on a no-strings-attached basis.

Who do you trust to raise your children?

The last question to consider may be the most important of all. Who can you trust and rely on to raise your children? Oftentimes clients may get frustrated when trying to find an appropriate guardian for their children. It’s easy to get picky; after all the idea of leaving your children in the hands of someone less-than-capable is scary. However, keep in mind that your choice for guardian can be separate from your financial or healthcare power of attorney. A guardian does not necessarily need to be a financial wizard or a medically trained professional. The most important qualification your choice for guardian should have is the ability and willingness to raise your children in a loving and healthy environment. Think of the values you want instilled in your children, and choose a guardian you believe is on the same page.


Now that you have gone through the 4 Big Questions of Estate Planning, you’re done! Of course Estate Planning is more complicated than these four questions, but the complexities of the process is a job for your attorney.  If you have the help of a professional and well-trained attorney, the process of setting up your Estate should be simple and easy–especially for you.

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