I will make the argument here: Most people would rather go to the dentist than get their estate documents (Living Will, Power of Attorney and Health Care Proxy) in order. Why? The dentist appointment usually only lasts an hour and does not require any preparation or thought in advance. In contrast, the estate planning process takes some forethought and a few meetings to complete. In addition, estate planning makes us consciously aware that we are indeed mortal.
Fortunately for estate documents, once you establish them, you hopefully won’t have to update them for years to come. My advice is as simple as this: Pull off the Band-Aid and complete your estate planning. You will be happier with yourself after the fact. I can speak from experience. My wife and I finally finished our estate documents 14 months after our daughter was born. I made sure to purchase my life insurance by the time she was born, but the estate documents found their way to the bottom of the pile of life’s paperwork.
I wanted to share our experience in hopes that it will encourage you to finalize your own estate plan. What at first seems like a daunting task is really not all that bad or time consuming. Hopefully after reading, you will feel confident to act.
Why do I need to create/update my estate documents?
The main reason for visiting an estate attorney would be to direct your decision making and assets in the manner you prefer if you become incapacitated or pass away.
When do I need to create/update my estate documents?
Estate documents are usually created around a life event. The definition of life event is quite wide, but it could include marriage, divorce, new child/grandchild, retirement, financial windfall, etc.
What are the primary roles you need to name in your estate documents?
Guardian – a person appointed to take care of minor children if you were to pass away
Executor – a person who is capable and will carry out your wishes
Power of Attorney – someone who is able to act on your behalf in legal and financial matters
Health Care Agent – someone who will act on your behalf for medical decisions if you are unable to make them.
What work do I need to do in advance?
For families with children, the biggest issue will be selecting a guardian for your children. Please don’t let this decision paralyze you and prevent you from finishing your estate documents. Think about the important decision, but then realize that you can always change your wishes at a future time. In this case, a good plan now is better than a perfect plan in the future.
What was the process like with the attorney?
My wife and I have a fairly simple estate, so we were able to get everything completed in the course of two meetings. The first meeting took approximately one hour and was an introduction to the process. We discussed many of the different topics in this article and thought about what-if scenarios. We were able to make most of the role appointment decisions in the meeting. About two weeks later, we received a package in the mail with all draft estate documents for us to review. Once reviewed, we had a final meeting to review and sign the paperwork to make the documents official.
What does it cost?
The completion of most basic estate documents range from $500 to $1,000. This price range would cover the majority of people. If your financial or family life is more complicated, this price could be higher.
Why should I visit a real in-person attorney?
With technological advances, there is always a temptation to use a lower-cost online service such as LegalZoom. Although these solutions could make sense, I feel that it is worth the extra cost to work with a local attorney who knows your situation and can help guide you through difficult questions. With such important decisions, this is not the area to skimp on a few hundred dollars. The in-person service also makes the official signing with witnesses and notaries a much easier process.
Hopefully this summary will serve as a reminder of cause to act so that your final wishes are protected in the future. If you would like, Rockbridge would be happy to give you an attorney referral for someone we have worked with in the past.