By Abigail Neal, Scottsdale Wills Lawyer
Create a Will and Other Estate Planning Documents
Everybody should have an estate plan, yet over half of all Americans do not have one. Some people might think that since they are not millionaires that estate planning isn’t something they need. Others may know that they need one but just haven’t gotten around to doing it yet. And even if people know they need an estate plan, many people are afraid of the cost and outrageous attorney’s fees. At the Neal Law Firm, we can get you the essential estate planning documents you need for a low fixed fee.
First, let’s look at some examples of what can happen if someone doesn’t have any basic estate planning documents:
1. A couple has two young children. A terrible accident happens in which both parents lose their lives. The couple never made wills, and since a will is the only place a parent can name a guardian for their minor children, the couple was not able to decide who should care for their minor children. Without a will, the couple’s minor children could end up being bitterly fought over by seemingly well meaning people who want to care for the couple’s children. This is not a good situation for the kids to have to go through, and everyone involved will incur significant attorneys’ fees while arguing for custody of the kids. If they had wills, the couple could have picked the guardians to care for and raise their minor children, protecting the children from a confusing and scary court process.
2. A couple gets married in which one spouse has children from his or her previous marriage. At some point during the marriage that parent dies leaving behind a spouse and his or her children. Perhaps the living parent wants to continue to raise the step-children. Without a will, the deceased parent was not able to name the surviving parent as guardian for the children. In addition, because the deceased parent didn’t have a will, his or her property will pass via the state’s laws of intestate succession. In Arizona, a community property state, half of the deceased parent’s separate property while the kids get the deceased parent’s other half of the separate property and the deceased parent’s entire one half interest in the couple’s community property. Since all assets that the couple earns or acquires during the marriage is community property, this could mean that the surviving spouse gets little to nothing. With a will, the deceased spouse could have named the surviving spouse as a guardian for his or her children and stated how his or her property should have been distributed at death.
3. A single man is not married, but has a brother and a sister. While riding his motorcycle one day, the man is struck by a car and seriously injured. When he is taken to the hospital, his brother and sister cannot agree and instead argue about who should be making their brother’s health care decisions. At this point, the man’s doctors are afraid of doing anything for fear they will get sued. Now the brother and sister have to go to court to get a court order appointing one of them to make the man’s health care decisions. This costs thousands of dollars and wastes precious time that should instead have been spent on the man’s care. This all could have been avoided if the man had made a health care power of attorney which would have specified who should make his health care decisions.
4. A couple is married in which one spouse is the breadwinner. The breadwinner spouse keeps most of the couple’s money in a separate bank account in that spouse’s name only. One day, the breadwinner falls ill and is rushed to the hospital, unable to communicate. During the hospital stay, the family’s bills start adding up for the mortgage, electricity groceries and the breadwinner’s medical bills. Unfortunately, the healthy spouse cannot access the money in the breadwinner spouse’s bank account to pay the bills. This forces the healthy spouse to go to court and get a court order allowing him or her to access the breadwinner’s account. The healthy spouse was forced to spend thousands to get the court order, all while racking up late charges and interest fees. Had the breadwinner spouse created a durable power of attorney naming the other spouse as financial agent, the healthy spouse would have had access to the bank account as soon as the breadwinner spouse fell ill.
5. A child cares dearly for her aging mother. Suddenly, the mother has a stroke causing massive brain damage. The doctors inform the child that the mother will not recover and is only being kept alive by artificial means. The mother never told her daughter what she would like the daughter to do in this situation. Now the daughter is left with the heart wrenching decision to keep her mother alive by artificial means or to let her pass naturally. With a living will, the mother could have stated her wishes about what kinds of treatment she would like in that type of situation.
Basic Will-Based Estate Plans
Powers & Neal offers a Will-based estate plan to cover all of these bases. This Estate Plan is designed to give you and your family essential protection without breaking the bank. The plan includes:
- Last Will & Testament. This critical document serves a number of essential functions including: naming a guardian for minor children and a conservator to manage any assets left to the minor children; stating who should who should inherit the assets of a person who is deceased; and naming a personal representative to administer the estate of a deceased person. With a Will-based plan, assets left to a minor child will be distributed outright to the child when he or she reaches age 18. With a Will-based plan, a probate will be necessary to transfer the assets, either to children 18 or older directly, or to a conservator named to manage the assets of minor children until they turn 18.
- Health Care Power of Attorney. This is where a person can designate one or more agent(s) to make medical decisions for them if they become ill, incapacitated or otherwise unable to make decisions own their own. We also include HIPAA authorization language allowing that allows doctors to share protected health care information with the named health care agent(s). This document along with a living will are often referred to as health care directives.
- Financial Power of Attorney. This document, also called a Durable Power of Attorney, is where a person picks one or more people to manage their financial affairs and assets if they become ill, incapacitated or otherwise unable to manage their finances and assets on their own.
- Living Will. This important document informs medical providers of a person’s end-of-life medical wishes. A Living Will tells medical providers what kinds of actions a person wants to be taken in the event the person is suffering from a terminal condition or is in a persistent vegetative state or irreversible coma. A Living Will states a person’s wishes about aggressive medical treatment or being kept alive by artificial means.
- Personal Property Memorandum. This helpful document states how a person wants to dispose of his or her personal property, like jewelry, art, china, and the like. A benefit to having a Personal Property Memorandum is that it can be amended at any time without having to see a lawyer to amend other estate planning documents.
Plan your estate today and call Arizona estate planning lawyer Abigail Neal at 480-699-7992 for a complimentary meeting to discuss how an estate plan can work for you and your family.
Learn more about Powers & Neal’s estate planning services.