- A will. A will disposes of your property if you die. If you do not have a will, then your property will be distributed according to state law, which may not be in line with your wishes. A will also names your executor and gives your executor certain powers; this makes probating your estate much easier. If you have under-aged children, you can nominate a guardian for them. While every person should have a will, people with children especially should have a will.
- A living will. This document states your wishes about being kept alive on life support. If you do not want to be kept alive on life support indefinitely, then you should have this document. If you do not, then your doctors will feel obligated to do everything possible to prolong your life.
- A power of attorney. A power of attorney gives someone the power to act on your behalf when you cannot do it yourself. If you were in a catastrophic accident and were facing months in the hospital, who would deposit your checks, pay your bills, and otherwise handle your financial affairs? If you had a power of attorney, it would be your attorney-in-fact. Without a power of attorney, someone would have to petition the court to have you declared incompetent and have a guardian appointed for you. I have been involved in family fights over who gets to be the guardian -- these fights began before I became a practicing attorney, and I suspect that they will continue long after I retire. A power of attorney would prevent these conflicts in most cases.
- A healthcare power of attorney. Like your power of attorney, your healthcare power of attorney gives another person the power to act on your behalf when you cannot. In the case of the healthcare power of attorney, you are delegating the power to make medical decisions, but only if you are not able to make or communicate those decisions. Without a clear healthcare power of attorney, hospitals have a difficult time figuring out whom to talk to when they cannot talk to you. Your "next of kin" (however they decide to define that) may be elderly, or out of state, or estranged. In non-traditional families, your significant other may be shut out of the hospital entirely.
I would like to make it even easier for you to make -- and keep -- this new year's resolution. If you make an appointment for the month of January to see me about your estate plan, I will take one hundred dollars off my normal fee. Go ahead and make that appointment today!