Do you have a will or end-of-life plan?
Regardless of your age, health status or assets, every person needs a legally recognized plan in place at the end of their life
End-of-life planning checklist
It is important to make a plan that covers everything that will arise when you need your loved ones to jump in either during your lifetime or upon your death. A complete plan is a gift to your family. You will need to have the following to cover all the various issues:
- During your lifetime, powers of attorney in case you can’t speak for yourself whether its a financial or medical issue.
- A living will (advanced directive) that states your wishes what you want if you are in that situation that where you on life support. It is a gift to your family if you make that decision especially when you are healthy when you make that decision.
- A document that outlines whether you would like to be buried or cremated. It is great when you actually take the time to think about what you want when you are healthy.
- A will with designations that states who you would like in priority as your personal representative and who shall receive your assets. It is important to list where your personal belongs should be distributed. Most people don’t want to consider the details of their personal property, but it’s a good opportunity during healthy times to have that conversation now with loved ones. It helps avoids any conflict when your loved one dies as death brings up so many emotions and can make that process extremely difficult.
- Appointment of guardian is important if you have minor children.
Call Alpine Legal Services at 970-945-8858 to see if you qualify for free legal services.
*This is the first part in a three-part series about end-of-life planning.The second part will focus on financial planning (regardless of a person’s wealth or lack thereof) and the third part will focus on the emotional side of making end-of-life plans.
When a loved one dies, surviving family members or loved ones must sift through personal effects and financial affairs as they also try to cope with the loss. The experience is often devastating, and for surviving family members and friends that are given the task to distribute an estate without a will or other documents to guide them through the process, it can be overwhelming.
Allison Daily has been supporting the Roaring Fork Valley with counseling and other grief services through Pathfinders, a nonprofit she presently leads to help those suffering from cancer or other chronic illness, grief and loss.
Recently, Pathfinders has helped support the families of people who have died unexpectedly as they navigate the legal complexities that follow death.
“We worked with four women who had lost their husbands suddenly,” Daily said. “They didn’t know what to do first; didn’t know where to go.”
Daily decided to assemble a team of experts — financial planners, an accountant and an estate attorney — to help the community with end-of-life planning. Each expert works for the client, bringing their specific training and experience to address every complexity associated with the process.
Regardless of a person’s wealth, Daily said it’s essential to create an end-of-life plan long before you think you need one.
Importance of an end-of-life plan
It is important that you have a plan when you die which may include important issues such as who will be the guardian and fiduciary for your children if both parents should die, who is in charge of distributing your assets and who will receive your estate.
“It’s best to create this plan when you are healthy as it usually reflects your true intentions,” said Aspen Trust and Estate Attorney Jeanne Doremus, who is part of the Pathfinders team.
Unintended fiduciaries and/or beneficiaries
When thinking about end-of-life planning, Doremus said a will is a great place to start. It allows you to name who you would prefer to serve as a personal representative (called executor in other states), who will be the beneficiaries of your estate.
“Wills are important as they dictate what you want to have happen and when anyone dies without a will, Colorado law essentially writes the person’s will for them through a set of statutes — and there are often unintended beneficiaries or consequences for your loved ones,” she said.
Another important task is to make sure all assets that have beneficiary designations are reviewed and accurately reflect who you want as your beneficiary. Life can change and it is not unusual to have unintended beneficiaries remain as beneficiaries of your assets, Doremus said.
The right legal documents
Regardless of a person’s assets — you could have millions or a few hundred bucks; multiple properties or none at all; own a business or be unemployed — a will outlines the deceased person’s final wishes.
Pathfinders wanted to create this checklist to help educate the community about the importance of these documents, and Alpine Legal Services is an important resource that can help those who cannot afford an attorney to prepare these documents. Call 970-945-8858 to see if you qualify for free legal services.
There are other documents — for example, financial and medical powers of attorney, living wills, advance health care directives — which are all important. These legal documents reflect your choice upon death and during your lifetime, and will provide power to those who can speak for you, regarding medical and financial issues, when you can’t speak for yourself.
A road map of important directions
What about information that isn’t necessarily legal in nature but still important? A road map of all important things someone should know when they are in charge of handling the estate should include a simple list of instructions about where to find things.
“Do you have a safety deposit box? Where’s the key? Do you have a safe that contains all of your important legal documents? What’s the combination? What accounts do you have? What are your passwords? Do you have life insurance?” Doremus said.
This information should be updated on a regular basis and should who you want to receive your personal items such as jewelry, clothing and other things. This information is a gift to those that will be in charge of this task.
“It empowers you now to know what your choices are and make decisions ahead of time for yourself and your family,” said Danielle Howard, a certified financial planner in Basalt who is part of the Pathfinders team. “Conversations and communication are key to keeping the transition through this difficult time of life as smooth as possible.”
Some people choose to write a letter to their children outlining what they want, which can help prevent guesswork or arguments.
“You make an end-of-life plan for the love of your family,” Daily said. “It’s going to make their lives easier and help them in their own grieving process. When loved ones have to spend a lot of time figuring out the estate issues, their grief is put to the side for a while.”