Start planning for the future now
My family has learned a lot over the past several months. My husband underwent a major medical procedure earlier in the summer. In an effort to prepare for this procedure, we sought the advice of our attorney.
It is important that families are prepared for illness or even death. Most of us would rather not think about our limited time on this Earth — especially when we are still in our 40s. We should not wait until we are in our 80s to ensure our legal documents are up-to-date — we should do so now! Luckily, my family had time to prepare the necessary legal documents when faced with a severe health challenge. Sadly, some families are not given any notice prior to losing a loved one.
When it comes to planning for the future, many Americans are not prepared. A recent ABC News poll found that 72 percent of Americans say they are planning and preparing for life as they get older. Further research shows, however, that 65 percent of Americans do not have wills and 71 percent do not have living wills.
What documents do families need to safeguard what is most precious to them? The following documents are recommended:
A living will: Generally, a living will describes certain life prolonging treatments. You indicate which treatments you do or do not want applied to you in the event you either suffer from a terminal illness or are in a permanent vegetative state. A living will does not become effective unless you are incapacitated.
A medical or health care power of attorney: This document designates an individual to make medical decisions for you in the event that you are unable to do so. A living will can't cover every possible situation. This makes it necessary to designate someone as your health care agent. This person will be guided by your living will but has the authority to interpret your wishes in situations that are not covered in your living will.
A power of attorney: A power of attorney is a legal instrument that is used to delegate legal authority to someone else. The document gives legal authority to another person to make property, financial and other legal decisions on your behalf.
A will: If you don't currently have a will, your loved ones may not receive the assets you wish to leave them in the event of your death. Making a will is a necessary process that can save your family money, time and possible grief as well as give you peace of mind.
Planned giving: Planned giving, sometimes referred to as gift planning, should be considered to support nonprofits and charities that enable donors to make larger gifts. A planned gift is any major gift, made in lifetime or at death as part of the donor's overall financial and/or estate planning.
We all have an estate plan! A recent Forbes article reminds us that we either create our own estate plan or there is one created for us by the state. It is far better for us to take care of our own families than leave this task to someone else. We know what is best for our kids, who should raise them if we are not around, how much they should inherit and when. We also know how we wish to be treated by a hospital or medical provider if we are terminally ill or injured.
Additionally, we know who should handle our finances if our children are too young or unable to do so. It is an act of kindness and responsibility to prepare legal documents — today — for our loved ones.
Christina Hawkey is the executive director of the Arizona Western College Foundation. She can be reached at email@example.com.