Estate documents are so much more than just passing money and material items along. Living Wills, Powers of Attorney and Personal Property Memorandums are profoundly important for the emotional well-being of your loved ones.
Living Wills come into play when you are brain dead or permanently unconscious with no hope of recovery. The purpose of a Living Will is to prevent those individuals you love, particularly your partner, spouse or children, from making the decision whether to terminate your earthly existence. Think of all the potential for conflict and guilt that making such a decision can entail. We’ve actually had a client tell us that “I killed Mom” because he had to make the decision to take her off life support. That is exactly the situation we are trying avoid. A Living Will uses no middle person to make the ultimate life/death decision – you make it in advance and remove all the responsibility of such an emotional situation from those you love.
Some people say that a Medical Power of Attorney already does the same thing as a Living Will, so a separate Living Will is unnecessary. They are mistaken. Powers of Attorney, by definition, give authority to another person to make decisions for you. Living Wills are designed to remove such decision making. Powers of Attorney serve a different but also very important purpose in estate planning. They are necessary while you are still alive but unable to make decisions for yourself or conduct your own business affairs. A Power of Attorney will lose all authority upon an individual’s death, but it does allow your friend or loved one to make decisions for you when you do need help. Today you cannot be admitted to most rehab or assisted living/nursing facilities without producing a Power of Attorney. And be aware, there are two types of Powers of Attorney; financial and medical. They are two completely different documents and serve two completely different purposes.
Finally, an estate plan is necessary to stop fighting or a sense of injustice from occurring with the distribution of your material possessions. Estate attorneys can cut up bank accounts and financial holdings all day long. What we can’t do is decide who gets Mom or Dad’s wedding ring, the family portrait that’s hung over the fireplace for years, or the kitchen china that was a part of every family dinner. You must do that dividing while alive and well, and state who gets what within a Personal Property Memorandum that is a part of a Will. We cannot tell you the hundreds (literally) of stories we’ve heard about siblings never speaking to each other again because of who got what material item when a parent died. And, worse, often the item had NO economic value. It’s almost always a matter of sentimental value.
So you see, it really doesn’t matter what the size of your “estate” is. Estate planning is an act of kindness you do for your family and friends. You make the life/death decisions, you appoint the proper people to act on your behalf and you divide your possessions so no one’s left making those hard choices for you.
It’s just something you do for those you love.