Taking Time in the Present to Think About the Future
When you think about your future, it probably looks a little something like this – you work hard, you take care of your family, you save money, and you dream about retiring surrounded by your loved ones. We usually plan for our future thinking that we will be a part of it, but it can be easy to forget one major detail: how does one plan for the unexpected? None of us want to think about the worst happening to us, or someone we love, but if you want to protect yourself, your family, and your legacy in the way you intended, comprehensive estate planning is essential. Comprehensive estate planning can address your assets, your family, and other various issues through the following legal documents.
A Will is a document that specifies who should inherit your property, including money and items of personal property, following your death. A Will can also designate a guardian for your minor children to provide who will take care of them in your absence. A well-drafted Will should answer all of the questions about what happens to everything you own, at your death.
When someone dies without a Will, South Carolina designates the deceased as intestate. Intestate means a person passed away without a valid Will; it can also apply when all of the decedent’s property has not been effectively distributed by the Will. When a South Carolina resident dies intestate, their estate will be divided by statute. For a married person, the division is between their spouse and children. If the deceased does not have a spouse or children, then the estate is divided between their nearest living relatives. All of this is mandated by statute. This may result in someone receiving property that you did not intend, or unintentionally leaving out someone you did want to inherit your property.
For those with minor children, another important reason to have a Will is to ensure that children are personally and financially cared for. This can be especially critical for single parents, who may want someone other than the biological parent or a relative to have custody of their child, and same-sex couples to have a plan in place in case they become incapacitated or pass away unexpectedly.
Not having a Will can result in extra turmoil and grief for your family, and it can result in prolonged litigation and fighting in the court system, tying up your property in the courts instead of it going to the loved ones you intended. The strategic thing to do as you are planning for the future is to also plan for what happens after you are no longer here. A Will can ensure that all of your hard-earned assets are properly distributed and the care of your children adequately addressed.
Power of Attorney
A Power of Attorney is a document that allows you to appoint someone to represent you in your financial affairs. This document is most useful if you have business and property interests. A Power of Attorney is only effective until you become physically disabled or mentally incompetent. It allows someone to assist you in financial affairs, such as paying your bills, or in business or real estate affairs, such as selling property. This document is important if you have a business interest and are unable to attend to it because you are out of the country or state or are temporarily unavailable to sign necessary documents. This document will allow your designated person to fulfill any financial obligations as you so specifically direct.
Durable Power of Attorney
A Durable Power of Attorney is a document that allows you to appoint an agent to represent you in financial matters, such as handling your bank accounts and filing and signing tax returns. A Durable Power of Attorney provides additional protection by ensuring that even if you become incapacitated; your agent will still have the authority to manage your financial affairs on your behalf, like paying bills, dealing with property, and filing taxes. This ensures that your financial affairs are protected in the event you cannot attend to them yourself.
If you become incapacitated, not having a durable power of attorney will require a court proceeding to have a guardian appointed for you to manage your financial affairs. This can be a costly and time-consuming process, and can result in someone you would not have chosen yourself handling your finances.
Health Care Power of Attorney
A Health Care Power of Attorney allows you to give control of health-related decisions to someone you trust in the event you can no longer make those decisions for yourself. This document can be extremely important for unmarried couples, people who may be estranged from their families, or same-sex couples. Historically, there have been cases where loved ones were denied access to their significant other because they were unmarried or the family did not approve of their relationship. This document can prevent any unnecessary hurt and confusion and allows the person you trust the most to have access to you to make those important health-related decisions when you cannot.
A Living Will is different than a general Will. A Will is a plan for your property and possessions after you die, a Living Will is a legally binding plan for your medical treatment preferences, should you become unable to make those decisions yourself. A Living Will can specify what medical procedures, or interventions serving to prolong the dying process, you are willing to consider. A Living Will requires you to identify what life saving treatments you do not want. For example, if you have decided that you do not want treatment care such as nutrition and hydration necessary for pain alleviation and comfort care, your living will must specifically state this. If your living will does not specifically address these issues, nutrition and hydration necessary for comfort care and pain alleviation will be provided.
At the end of the day, none of us want to think about the unexpected happening. However, having the peace of mind that your loved ones, your property, your financial affairs, and your health and best interests will be looked after should the worst happen needs to be a priority when you’re planning for your future. An experienced estate planning attorney can help you put the proper documents in place now so that you, and your loved ones, can enjoy your future.