Each year about this time of year, I receive a telephone call that goes something like this: “Hello, my friend gave me your name and I really need your help,” the caller says.
“What can I do for you?” I begin.
“Over Mother’s day, I was visiting with my mother and she is not doing well. Her memory is failing and she does not look like she is eating. I think my mother needs help and I am not sure what resources she has or even if she has a Will…and a Durable Power of Attorney. And while I’m thinking of it she should also have a Health Care Proxy.”
“So, it sounds like your mother needs a complete estate plan. Does she have any of those documents now?”
Sometimes the answer is “No.” Other times the answer is “Well, her documents were done 20 years ago and they’re not really relevant anymore.”
So, my next questions are, “ Is she competent to discuss her estate plan with an attorney? Is she on any medications that might alter her state of mind?”
There’s usually a long pause on the line before caller says, “Well, she does have lucid moments when she knows that we’re in the room with her.”
I feel sorry for people who find themselves trapped in this type of a situation. Procrastination is never desirable, especially when considering something as important as creating the legal documents necessary to take care of yourself in the event of a health problem or distributing your assets to your loved ones at your death.
While not one of us likes to consider the possibilities of our decline in health or even our own demise, these are realities of life that will happen to all of us. It’s not a matter of “if” these sorts of things will happen, but instead it is a matter of “when” they will happen.
Another problem is that not all estate plans are equal. The client may need a will or they may need a trust. That depends on a variety of factors including the types and amounts of assets that they own. When you create a will or a trust there are many sub‑issues that should be carefully thought through, including who is going to serve as your personal representative, trustee, agent under a durable power of attorney and health care proxy. Distribution issues must be considered, beneficiary forms conformed to the estate plan, as well as life insurance, estate tax and income tax planning issues to name a few.
I hope you and your family do not find yourself in this situation. If you or a loved one has procrastinated completing your estate plan, hopefully this little column will motivate you in calling to set a free consultation.