The recent and sudden death of actor Luke Perry, who fell victim to a stroke at age 52, serves as a stark reminder of mortality, especially for Generation Xers who saw him as their generation’s heartthrob. Perry’s death more urgently reminds yet another generation some things shouldn’t wait.
When West Point cadet Peter Zhu tragically died in a skiing accident, his parents rushed to obtain a court order to harvest their only son’s sperm, in hopes of some day preserving his legacy in his future children and their grandchildren, born of artificial insemination.
Putting off any action to plan your estate is a choice to leave your children (if they are minors) and your property in the manner determined under law made by a few legislators or a judge in your state. It’s also a choice to let the state decide who can make medical decisions if you are comatose after an accident or major illness.
Both Perry and Zhu serve as reminders to get your affairs in order.
Without a will, your property passes under law, or “intestate”, as it is called in the law. In the multiple family situations all too common these days, it’s hard to say exactly what the distribution of property will look like. Generally, if you have a surviving spouse and children, they will inherit your property. There are so many other possibilities, however. What if there is no spouse (or a responsible one) and no named guardian for minor children? What if there is a previous marriage and the divorce paperwork isn’t perfect? What about children from different marriages?
With tough and often tragic medical situations, if you haven’t designated a person to make decisions for you, your doctors may be forced to get a court order to make healthcare decisions. Inaction also potentially frustrates medical care by failing to name a person to receive your personal medical information in the first place.
Finally, by inaction, you are ensuring your assets or your family’s assets will be used, at least in part, to administer your estate. Going to court to handle estate matters gets really expensive very quickly.
Dominic Negron, is a San Antonio attorney in the Justice For Me network who focuses on wills and estates, as well as elder and probate law. He laments the fact so many people leave their affairs to the decisions of the legislature and any random judge, all of whom are strangers.
“Each and every adult should have basic estate plan agreements, which appoint someone to handle your affairs and property, and make medical decisions, as well as guardianship for any minor children,” Said Dominic J. Negron, attorney specializing in elder and family law. “The will also can dictate the manner and actual distribution of any property, at the lowest cost”, Negron said.
He also cautions on the use of off-the-shelf software. He has seen too many errors as a result of misunderstandings about the software itself, or the meaning of the agreements at hand. He recommends using a probate lawyer to tailor your agreements—the associated attorney fee for the basics should be very low.
Every adult should have these basic documents in place:
• Last will and testament—names individuals who receive your property at death. It may also designate guardians for minor children and more.
• Durable power of attorney—names individuals to run your affairs if you are incapacitated.
• Medical power of attorney—names individuals to make medical decisions, in consultation with your doctors, if you are incapacitated.
• Medical advance directive—states your preferences on life sustaining measures in the event of major health crisis.
• Healthcare privacy consent—names individuals who have permission to receive your medical information.
These absolute minimum documents are the basics to ensure your family can move forward legally in the event of your death or disability. You could also look at many other steps, such as naming survivor rights on certain accounts and other assets. If you have a very substantial estate or complicated situations, you also may need more complex planning agreements. But, the basics are a good start.
RIP Luke Perry and Peter Zhu. Honor their memories. But, also honor your families by taking action NOW with a plan of your own.
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