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Among the most common questions I receive is “Do I really need to create estate planning documents?”  This question is usually preceded by a litany of reasons why the person asking the question does not need estate planning:

“I’m too young”

“I don’t have any assets”

“I am single”

“I don’t have any children”

So, the real question is “Are there any estate planning documents that EVERYONE needs regardless of age, assets, or their family situation?”  The answer to that question is a resounding “YES.”  I recommend that everyone execute basic Powers of Attorney for Financial and Healthcare matters.  A Power of Attorney formally appoints someone to serve as your agent or attorney in fact and outlines the powers they have to act.  These documents are so important because they not only address very important issues, they also allow access for the chosen helpers/agents to assets and information that are generally barred to anyone other than the individual themselves.  Also, if these documents are not executed ahead of time and the individual loses the mental capacity to execute them later, the only remedy is a court appointed conservatorship.  Conservatorship proceeds can be long and drawn out and expensive while Powers of Attorney are relatively simple and easy to execute.

Obviously, Powers of Attorney are important for older adults who will rely on their adult children or other family members to care for them when they become unable to make decisions themselves.  However, the need for Powers of Attorney become less apparent to those individuals who are relatively young and healthy.   In fact, I often get asked “Well, won’t my spouse simply make those decisions for me?”  The reality is that while spouses do have certain rights and protections under the law, our laws are designed to protect privacy and confidentiality.  For example, if an asset such as a piece of property, bank account, retirement account, or life insurance policy is owned by an individual in their name alone, their spouse does not have an automatic right to get information about or access that asset.  In fact, a Power of Attorney or conservatorship document is necessary for anyone to deal with that asset on behalf of the individual if he or she is incapable of doing so themselves.  For healthcare and medical issues, an Advance Healthcare Directive is necessary to authorize not only decision making but also access to information and medical records even for spouses and parents.

So, in fact, no adult is too young, too single, or too poor to benefit from the safeguard of having Powers of Attorney in place.

One Response to “The Estate Planning Documents Everyone Needs”

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