A new year provides many of us with the opportunity to try something different or reflect upon what we accomplished during the previous year, but it is also a great time to revisit our plans for the future. This could not be more relevant for my family as we have spent the past week mourning the loss of a loved one, while concurrently going through the painstaking process of executing a will, finding proper long-term care for a disabled surviving spouse, and carrying out final wishes for a family spread out all over the country.
And while this certainly is a difficult time, I cannot express how much easier it has been due to the basic estate planning conversations we coincidentally had earlier in 2021. Talking about the end of life’s journey is never fun; however, we were able to take care of a lot over the past few days because of these prior conversations, and with very little legal assistance.
I encourage you to take action soon to ensure that you have made appropriate preparations for your own death, as well as to encourage or assist those you care about to do the same. At the bare minimum, the following documents should be in place for each individual:
- Advance Medical Directive – this allows a person to decide in advance who will make health care decisions for them if they become incapacitated and are unable to make their own decisions.
- Durable Power of Attorney – in this document, the writer appoints an individual he/she trusts to make other legal decisions, primarily financial, on their behalf if they become incapacitated.
- Last Will and Testament – this document provides key information and instructions regarding the distribution of assets, disposition of remains, and other final wishes on behalf of a deceased individual. It also can include instruction on who should be the guardian of any minor children of the individual who has died.
- Beneficiary Designations – perhaps the simplest part of the estate planning process, setting up beneficiaries for life insurance policies, retirement accounts, etc. allows account owners to predetermine the distribution of those assets after their death, and also to avoid the probate process for those assets.
This is not meant to be an exhaustive list of things that need to be taken care of; however, having the above protections in place ahead of time will save your loved ones a lot of time, money, and stress when the unfortunate time of a loved one’s passing ultimately arrives. You can learn more by visiting the Iowa Legal Aid website, or by attending one of the many Iowa State University Extension and Outreach programs available for Aging and Caregiving. The Iowa Concern Hotline (800-447-1985) has an attorney on staff who can provide information on legal topics as well.