As a Marietta estate planning attorney, I’m often asked, “what is exactly is a health care directive or living will?
Basically, an Advance Healthcare Directive in Georgia, sometimes commonly known as a Living Will, is a legal document that permits someone to make medical decisions on your behalf. This type of document is commonly associated with the decision of maintaining or removing life support for a critically ill loved one, but Health Care Directives and Living Wills cover far more than that.
Specifically, a Georgia Advance Directive for Health Care, or “Living Will,” allows someone to:
– Decide if you want your life to continue on life support or if you want to have them withhold treatment. (a/k/a “pulling the plug”)
– Pick a person to make health care decisions for you if you are unable to do so.
– Make decisions about pain relief options.
– Decide if you want your organs to be donated.
– To make any other decisions about your health care and treatment.
As you can see, a Health Care Directive or a Living Will is essential for someone looking to have their wishes carried out in the event they die or become incapacitated.
The person you select to make the decisions for you is called your Healthcare agent. The agent will be acting on your behalf so their role is very important. When you are selecting your agent, you should consider a few things:
-He or she must be over the age of 18.
-He or she must be reliable and readily available in case something happens to you.
-He or she must be emotionally able to make end of life decisions for you.
-You should consider adding two to three alternative agents in the event that the primary agent is unable or unwilling to make the critical decisions.
-If you appoint your spouse as your agent, and your marriage is dissolved or annulled, your agent’s authority is automatically revoked, unless you specify otherwise.
-If you are pregnant, your health care directive will not be honored.
While a health care directive can give someone the right to make all healthcare decisions for you, it is also possible to limit authority by clearly defining what their scope of power includes. For example, you may decide that your healthcare agent has the authority to decide what type of pain relief you are given, but limit their ability to decide whether to “pull the plug.” It is important to discuss this with an experienced Georgia estate planning attorney to make sure that you are very clear and specific in defining this scope.
Once a Georgia Advance Health Care Directive is signed, dated, and notarized or witnessed by two qualified persons, the Health Care Directive is valid forever, unless and until the individual revokes it. If the primary Agent refuses to follow the instructions dictated, the alternative Agents will be called upon to act on behalf of you, which is why it is important to name alternative Agents.
One final key point to consider when choosing your agent is that the person should actually want to have this responsibility. There are people who do not feel comfortable making such important decisions – even for their own spouse. Therefore, it is critical to have a conversation with whomever you are considering to ensure that they can and will able to make the decisions that you want them to make.
Setting up an Advance Directive for Health Care that truly protects your wishes in the event of your incapacity starts by meeting with a Marietta estate planning lawyer. Here at Georgia Estate Plan : Worrall Law LLC, we’ve made that process easier than ever by offering free Georgia Family Treasures Planning Sessions (normally $750) each month to readers of our blog. So call 770-425-6060 today to secure your spot.
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Marietta Georgia estate planning lawyers eat, sleep, and breathe estate planning and see pretty much every kind of situation unfold. Clearly, individuals who have taken the time to create a solid estate plan nearly always fare better than those who do not. Still, there are a whole lot of myths and misunderstandings floating around that stop people from making the choice to protect their futures with an estate planning lawyer’s assistance.
In an effort to help as many people as possible, it is incredibly important to tackle these myths head-on and to debunk those that just aren’t true.
T or F: Estate plans are just for those with lots of assets.
The answer is false. So many people end up unknowingly damaging their estates and hurting their heirs because they just don’t think they have “enough stuff” to justify an estate plan. This myth absolutely needs to be debunked! As long as you own something, there will be a legal process in order to determine what to do with it after you die. This process (probate) is not only long and drawn out, but it also costs money! That money comes from the estate itself, meaning that those precious few assets you wanted to pass on could actually end up being sold in order to pay for probate and taxes. Fortunately, working with an estate planning lawyer ahead of time allows you the opportunity to protect your assets using whatever tools are appropriate for your situation.
T or F: You don’t need an estate plan as long as your family knows your wishes.
The answer is false. There are a couple of problems that Marietta GA estate planning lawyers encounter with this line of thinking. First, and probably most importantly, is that just because you and/or your family wants things to happen in a certain way, there’s no guarantee they will. Instead of your loved ones following your wishes, they will be forced to follow the laws of the state—even if these go completely against what you wanted. Additionally, everyone experiences grief differently, and even though your child or other loved one knows your preferences, he or she may find ways to subvert them for their own gain. The best way to avoid both of these kinds of drama is to work with an estate planning lawyer in Georgia who knows how to ensure that things go the way you want as a matter of law.
T or F: Trust funds are for more than passing on money.
The answer is true. While we may have certain ideas about trust funds as a result of watching too many movies, a whole lot of people aren’t clear on what they can really do. For example, your Marietta Georgia estate planning attorney can help you set up a trust in order to limit the taxes your estate (and heirs) will have to pay later. They also provide you with a big say in how your heirs are able to use the money—do you want them to have free rein, to pay for an education, or to give the money to charity? These are just some of the ways trusts are often used.
Even if you don’t have a ton of assets, a skilled Marietta estate planning lawyer can help you create a roadmap that will be followed by both the courts and those you’ve left behind. From avoiding probate and excessive taxes to ensuring that your grandkids go to college, working with an estate planning lawyer in Marietta is the first step in protecting what you hold dear.
Want to learn more about estate planning myths? Did you know that when it comes to estate planning, there are 5 RIDICULOUS myths that could cause your plan to crumble and fall apart when your family needs it the most. Whether you already have an estate plan or you have ZERO documents in place, this report will help you identify common myths and mistakes so that you can FIX any problems, make the right decisions and properly safeguard the people and things you love.
BEFORE YOU GO ONE STEP FURTHER WITH YOUR PLANNING…. Download this free special report HERE.
Now that the champagne has been consumed and the party horns have been put away, it’s time to really begin the New Year. You may or may not be sticking to those resolutions you made on January 1st, but even if they are a vague memory at this point, I challenge you to add one more resolution to your list — review your estate plan.
Here’s a checklist to get you started:
- Look for your estate planning documents and see if they are still in the place where you left them. Check your fireproof safe, safety deposit box, or other location where you store the actual documents. In addition, make sure your electronic copies are where you last left them. You may have chosen to keep them on a CD or on your home computer, in any case, make sure they are still accessible. Additionally, make sure your heirs, executor, or trust administrator know where they are.
- Review your children’s long-term and short-term guardian nominations. Has anything happened either in your children’s lives or your guardian’s lives that may make you rethink things? Has the person (people) you’ve named as guardians moved, had a child, divorced, or remarried? If so, does this impact your decision? Have any changes happened that might make you rethink the people you named as short-term guardians?
- Did any of your children turn 18? If so, you need to make sure that they have the proper legal documents in place. They may not have many assets so they may not need a full-blown estate plan, but they will need a signed healthcare power of attorney and living trust in case something happens to them. Without these legal documents in place, you may not be able to speak for them.
- Update, review, or consider a pet trust. If you currently have a pet trust, has anything happened that would make you rethink it? Did something happen to your pet that may mean there are more medical expenses than you thought? Did you get a new pet this year that you want to be sure will be cared for if something happens to you?
- Think through 2014 and list any substantial assets you may have acquired. If you have new assets, make sure they are transferred into your trust. If they aren’t, those assets could end up in probate even though you thoughtfully created a trust to avoid this.
- Review and think about your asset distribution. Does your trust still reflect your wishes for how you would like to distribute your assets? Again, life events such as births, deaths, marriage and divorce may impact the decisions you made about this.
- Check your insurance policies. Does your life insurance still reflect an amount that would support your family if something happens to you? Has something happened in the past year that would require you raise that amount?
- Are you still happy with your decision regarding who should administer your estate? Is he or she still willing to accept this duty? Has anything happened in the last year that would make you wonder whether this person is still able to perform this function? If you are in doubt, you may consider discussing the person you chose and make changes if necessary.
- Update your family’s legacy. Each year you should update your written legacy whether it is in writing or recorded. Be sure to note family member milestones and accomplishments. This will most likely be the most valuable part of your estate plan so be sure to spend time on this.
As I tell my clients, your estate plan is a document that changes just as your life changes. While every change in your life doesn’t mean that you need to update your estate plan, it is important to think through the past year’s events and experiences to make sure that your estate plan will still take care of your family just has you planned.
When you walk into an Atlanta estate planning lawyer’s office, you are going to hear some terms that are either completely new to you or that sound like something out of an old movie. It’s a good idea to have some understanding of these terms ahead of time so you don’t spend time doing anything other than what you hired the attorney to do.
That said, if you ever have any questions regarding terminology that you were unable to answer on your own, be sure to ask your Atlanta estate planning attorney so you absolutely understand the choices you have and the decisions you’re making.
- Administration: This is the term used to refer to the process of settling an estate and includes a number of tasks ranging from doing an inventory of assets to distributing them according to the will or probate court’s instructions.
- Assets: Anything owned or controlled by a person that can be used to produce value. This might include, but is not limited to, real estate, vehicles, investments, life insurance, retirement accounts, and personal property.
- Beneficiary: A person named in an insurance policy, retirement account, will, trust or other legal document to receive ownership of the deceased’s assets.
- Bequest: A gift designated to go to a particular individual or group, usually designated in a will.
- Death Tax: A commonly-used term to refer to taxes imposed by the federal government that must be paid out of an estate. Also referred to as the Estate Tax.
- Guardian: The person appointed to get custody of a minor child and/or the child’s property should the parents be killed or become incapacitated. (The term “Conservator” is used to refer to those named to provide for others who are not minors.)
- Heir: Someone who is entitled to inherit from the deceased.
- Probate: The process of closing an estate through the courts that begins with the validation of the will and continues until the assets have been distributed.
- Trust: A method for legally holding and managing property for the benefit of another.
- Will: A legal document that provides instructions for how a person’s property should be distributed after his or her death.
It’s worth noting that estate planning terms DO change over time. What may have once been called an “administrator” or “executor” may now be the “personal representative,” for example. Again, if you have any questions about the terminology being used, don’t hesitate to ask your Atlanta estate planning lawyer for clarification for how terms are used in our state.
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
We are fast approaching the holidays, when travel is the busiest and careful planning is necessary to nab the best airfare or book that New Year’s beach cottage before it slips away. One thing that is probably not on your travel to-do list is estate planning, but it should be so you can travel with peace of mind.
Here are some tips to pack away your worries before you board that flight:
Complete your estate plan. If you’ve been putting it off, now is the time to complete your estate plan. If money is a consideration, then start with those the most important items: a will, power of attorney and advance health care directives.
Update an existing estate plan. Has something changed in your life since you last updated your estate plan? A birth, a death, a marriage, a divorce? Each of these triggers your need to update your estate plan.
Establish guardianship for minor children. If you have ever gotten a nagging fear about what would happen to your children if something were to happen to you, then use that fear to follow through on naming a guardian for raising your minor children. If you have young kids, there is never an excuse for you to neglect this important step.
Review beneficiaries. Beneficiaries of your retirement accounts, life insurance and other assets must be kept current or your assets will not pass to them upon your death. If you have minor children, you will need to set up a trust and name the trust as beneficiary so your assets can pass without court intervention.
Review/update incapacity documents. Two very important health care documents – a durable power of attorney for health care and a HIPPA Authorization – will determine who can make medical decisions for you and who has access to your medical records in case of incapacity. Be sure you have these documents before you travel and that the person/people named are still valid.
Review/update insurance. Does your life insurance coverage still meet your family’s needs? If not, it is time to update your insurance policy before you hit the road.
In addition, you need to be sure you have an organized file of all your accounts and estate planning documents and you need to tell your family where they can locate the file if and when it becomes necessary.
The time to create a plan that spells out how you will pass on your values, beliefs and your money to your children is now. You can begin by calling our Atlanta estate planning law office today at 770-425-6060 to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk. We normally charge $750 for a Georgia Family Legacy Planning Session, but because this planning is so important, I’ve made space for the next three people who mention this article to have a complete planning session at no charge. Call today and mention this blog post.
Image courtesy of Nujalee at FreeDigitalPhotos.net