Who gets your money, your vinyl collection, or your blog? The basics to making your estate plan, part 1

Guest post by Cass

Don’t let your eyes glaze over yet! This shit is really important, and we’re going to do all we can to make it interesting.

Who gets your vintage vinyl, and your other stuff? By: doguloveCC BY 2.0

With some basic planning, you can provide for your loved ones in the worst case scenario. “Estate planning,” an umbrella term, can help you direct exactly what happens with you, your loved ones, your money, and your things in the event of your incapacity or death.

Every person can benefit from a basic plan that provides peace of mind for you and gives your loved ones what they need to know if you cannot tell them.

Usually people think that an estate plan requires an attorney and a lot of money. While an attorney will be able to give you comprehensive advice and documents unique to you and your situation, it need not be expensive. And you do not necessarily need an attorney for many of the documents that can help in tough situations. These documents are also a great place to start if your partnership is not legally recognized where you live. You can essentially make a contract between you and your partner to give each other some rights that would otherwise be automatic if your marriage were legally recognized.

This overview is meant to be general information and applicable for wherever you are. For your specific situation, check your local legal help society, inquire at your bank, or ask your doctor.

Wills: for more than just post-dead-times!

The first thing people tend to think of is their “last will and testament” that says who gets their stuff when they die. However, a will is an extremely powerful and versatile document that can do so much more. A last will is valid only when you die. This document lets you decide who (or what) gets your money, your vinyl collection, your blog, or your pet cat when you die. If you have children, this is also the place to say who will take care of your child — if your spouse is a step-parent to your child, this is a MUST to make sure the logical transfer of care happens and that your spouse takes care of your child.

Healthcare power of attorney(POA)/Living will/Advance healthcare directive: Sign all the forms!

Whether you realized it or not, you likely filled out one of these forms if you underwent any major surgery. Hospitals make people fill out this form so they know what they can or cannot do if you cannot make your own healthcare decisions. The healthcare POA is valid only while you are alive and cannot make your own decisions related to healthcare. This is where you tell your doctor that you do not want to stay on life support, or that you do want painkillers if you have a terminal condition. Here, you can also say what kind of funeral or body-handling you want in the case of your death — likely this is the only document around when you die.

The healthcare POA is one of the easiest plans to make, as many are forms where you check boxes and fill out a questionnaire to indicate your preferences. Once made, give copies to your decision-maker (patient advocate) and your doctor, and bring it with you to the hospital if you are having surgery.

Durable power of attorney: who signs your checks and steps in your shoes?

Durable power of attorney is one of the most confusing parts of your estate plan, and it is also extremely powerful. While you are alive, you can designate someone (your “agent”) who can do things and make decisions on your behalf. This document lets you decide who can sign checks for you, participate in legal matters, or do practical things like pay bills and negotiate contracts on your behalf. Everything your agent does for you is only what they know you want them to do. However, because this document allows someone to “step in your shoes” to act as if they are you, this is not a document to be made lightly, and should be as specific as possible.

Trust: Like being a zombie, but less creepy

Often called “the hand from the grave,” a trust gives you control of your property, and is valid while living or after you die. Trusts are often used to direct how someone is allowed to use or manage your property. Trust fund kids are really just people who get income from some account which is not controlled by themselves, but by a trustee who manages the money for that person. You can set up a trust to benefit yourself, your family, your pets, your business, or a charity.

This document is extremely flexible and treated a bit differently everywhere, so this is one document to consult with your attorney.

These documents are the basic documents of many estate plans. There are more, but they are more complicated and are not legally binding everywhere. Document titles may differ depending on where you live. For legal advice, seek an attorney.

Comments on Who gets your money, your vinyl collection, or your blog? The basics to making your estate plan, part 1

  1. Last year, after my mom attempted to pressure me into seeking care at a different, less advanced facility just so I would be closer to her, I created an advanced healthcare directive, naming someone I trust to make rational decisions that keep my best healthcare needs in mind instead. Typically, unless you have this filled out, your POA falls to your spouse, or if they’re unavailable, your family. In my case, it would have fallen to my parents.
    I found that it was easy and free to do – all I did was fill out forms for both states that I’m often in, have 2 friends signs as witnesses, and give a copy to my POA and my health network.
    I still have to create the other things. I should probably get on that.

    • Yes! A great success story!
      Oftentimes a hospital doesn’t have to ask *anybody* but they do so in order to have direct guidance from the people most likely to sue in a case of malpractice. They want to keep people happy, and are legally able to do so, but not required.

  2. I love this. I actually first learned more about this when I took a Dave Ramsey class in my area. Older couples were talking about those things and I decided to ask my class organizer about it. Dave does offer classes called, “Legacy” that talks all about those documents and who to talk to, where to file, and all kinds of things to just be “prepared” for. I hate tot say it but now that I’ve realized the importance of these things, I seriously wish other people would know more about them too. I mean, even the single mom working at a diner or a contract advertising graphic designer with no family needs these things. If I didn’t have kids, I’d love to see my money go towards a charity I like, my body donated to science (what good organs I have to be donated), and my belongings donated or sold, benefits going to local hospitals to pay off debts of patients in the area. If i did have kids, I’d want to make sure they were left with someone I know well and trusted and not awarded to the state, and a trust made for them that part of my money and belongings are awarded to them when they reach adulthood. The rest donated to charity.
    Me and my husband already have a living will in place that both of us understand and respect. I wish this article could have mentioned and elaborated on living wills. They are good for medical emergencies that let medical facilities know what your wishes are before they cut you open or try to bring you back to life. We know what each other wants, that if we are in our last days, we want to not be given water or food nothing to sustain our lives and no procedures taken to prolong our life. We strongly feel when it is our time to go, it is our time and don’t like to argue it. I really stress how important it is to have something like this because I had to see many a time families that seemed so close, argue into the ground over a family member dying. It strikes an emotional chord with a lot of people. it lessens the blow a LOT and brings more peace to know that that person had a plan in place. If you want extra on that, you can give someone the durable power of attorney to let them make medical decisions for you. If you feel that you can trust someone to make the decision if they need to pull the plug or not, please TELL them and not just put it down on paper! Me an the hubby are in our early 20s and may not have wills and trusts, but we do have every medical intervention wish taken care of. If you want an example of what these look like, living wills cost NOTHING to get and can be filed at your local hospital or doctor. Its something so easy to fill out and express wishes on, I encourage a LOT of people to just go ahead and do it.
    Thank you seriously for posting this. Something so important to plan , yet no one really ever thinks or considers the importance of it. Bravo to those who do and have filed.

    • All great points. My focus was to give a general overview. And because some of these documents are wildly different anywhere you go, I couldn’t really say much more.
      But a GREAT point that often the Living Will is FREE and really gives you great benefit and peace of mind.
      Thanks for sharing your story.

  3. I would also stress that it is a REALLY GOOD idea to take care of these forms for the people left after you die. My uncle died last December, and my family is still trying to get things sorted out. He left no will, and my mother was the only relative left, and trying to get probate sorted out from across the country has been a daily nightmare. Because there was no will, we could not access his bank account, or turn off/end anything like phone, rent, etc, yet we were getting billed for all those as well as the hospital costs. It’s just been a year of awful on top of losing someone loved. Don’t do that to the people in your life. They don’t need one more thing to worry about when they are grieving over you.

  4. Very topical! My spouse and I are meeting with a lawyer to discuss estate planning funtimes later this week. With a baby and homeownership in the mix, there’s enough complication to justify getting everything sorted. But it’s complicated! We originally tried to just fill out forms found online, but ultimately concluded that our lives have gotten complex enough that we need guidance from someone who actually knows what’s what.

    • That’s a good reason not to use those Popular Online Legal Services or the kits from Kinkos. They just ask questions, and the person filling them out often isn’t sure why. A good lawyer will be able to teach you what it all means, and will take their time to make sure you understand fully.
      For example, a trust that the user doesn’t understand is almost completely useless – for a document that many attorneys call the “superior” document in all cases.

  5. Big tip: whenever possible, set up an estate plan that BYPASSES probate. You do not want to deal with probate court. A relative with no estate plan died in Los Angeles County, which has a very busy court system and a perpetual probate court backlog…and we had to get his house fixed up so we could sell it. It took TWO YEARS to get his estate cleared.

    I am not married and have no children, but I set up my estate plan as soon as I had enough money to hire an attorney. I named “backup guardians” for my pets, specified that I want my organs donated if possible, directed who gets my money and my stuff, etc. Less work for my family to do if I die first!

  6. All great ideas. Let me just add, have the conversation. No one wants to find out that they’re getting your kids (or not) after you die. Ask people if they want or are able to take on the big stuff (house, kids, pets, boats). And tell people your plans. For example, both my husband and I would want to be cremated, but I’m pretty sure his mother wouldn’t be super psyched about that. It would be awesome if he’d talk to her about it, so it didn’t end up with her being mad at me after the fact (hopefully not something we have to worry about). Same deal – we’re on for taking my sister’s kid in the event of an emergency, but she needs to tell the paternal grandparents that’s the plan, since I don’t want it to seem as though we’re snatching him away. Wills are great, as are healthcare proxies, but they can always be contested, so just really letting people know what you want can save a lot of heartache.

      • I look forward to part 2! My husband and I have had these conversations with eachother but not with other members of our family (parents, siblings). My mother had some huge medical issues over the summer and despite many conversations previously about what she did and did not want in the event that she could no longer communicate, we found that none of the legal paperwork had been taken care of leaving my dad is quite a predicament. I don’t want to do that to my family – and I’m certain that wasn’t my mom’s plan either, she just didn’t know.

  7. My father in law passed away not quite two weeks ago and I have been getting a crash course in this. He had a trust in place but no one knew what was in it and it was stored at a lawyers office.
    I would definitely recommend not only having these documents but discussing them with your loved ones. I created a life binder that has all our documents organized along with a list of account numbers and phone numbers so that whoever handles our affairs can step in,

  8. Also, make sure that people know where to find the originals of these documents. My husband’s grandmother just passed away but spent last week in the hospital unconscious. Apparently she had a power of attorney and personal directive (Canadian version of a living will) naming my mother-in-law to make decisions, but since we couldn’t find it, the siblings fought over what they thought was best for her.

  9. Due to a pretty weird (not health-related) situation when I was a teenager, I had a will made at that time. I now feel the complete opposite of what that document said (everything goes to one parent, and that parent is now the last person I would want to have anything). What is the easiest, quickest, and most painless way for me to negate what that document says? (I unfortunately don’t even have a copy of it anymore, but I know it’s out there and said parent would probably find it if they wanted to). I know that for all the very good reasons people stated I should do more estate planning than negating an old document. But if I’m not going to, where’s the best place to start if I want to ensure that the old will I made when I was a very confused teenager is not followed?

    • A GREAT question. Typically creating a new Will will void the previous one. (There are special cases, but an attorney will generally put in a standard clause voiding all past Wills.)

      If it needs to be done NOW do a basic Google search on “How to ~cancel a Will”

  10. please please please talk with anyone you choose to handle your final affairs! Make sure they are comfortable with your choices!!!

    My great grandparents on maternal and paternal sides died without one, and it was an extreme headache and in some cases heart ache for everyone.

    When my grandmother became ill, she had nothing in writing and the courts decided that my oldest aunt was to be her POA. That was incredibly rough, as my grandmother did not raise my aunt, nor did they have any relationship other than sending xmas cards to each other.

    It was a nightmare, my grandma wanted my dad to be in charge, but the courts and her doctors said that her Alzheimers had progressed too far. My aunt didn’t want to be in control, but she didn’t know my dad, her own brother, so she didn’t want to change the court order.

    I was taking care of my grandma at the time, and after I had to give my aunt a crash course about my grandma, she decided to let me run the show, but wouldn’t change things legally. Needless to say it was incredibly difficult. Some of my decisions held, others (some major ones that I knew my grandma would have made if she was capable) went completely ignored. I was only 20, I was trying to work a part time job, go to school, take care of my grandma, and I was still needed at home because my dad was traveling with the army, and 4 of my little brothers were living at home. I was so stressed, but I had to make the choices that she couldn’t.

    Now that I’ve had the unfortunate experience, it’s heavy on my mind. Luckily the army made my dad finalize end of life documents. Despite my step moms wishes, I am the POA. I am fine with that. We talked things over and I feel comfortable with his choices, and I feel comfortable carrying them out.

    Not wanting to be “outdone” by her ex husband, my mom made all of her arrangements as well. We have not had any relationship at all for the past year+, but I am her POA as well. In some aspects I am ok with that. In others, not so much. I wish that she would have talked with me about her plans, before throwing the responsibility on me.

    My parents are young, and things change. But it just brings out a valid point- Please talk with anyone you want to carry out your wishes. Make sure they are ok with what you would be asking them to do!

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