If someone you care about doesn’t have an estate plan, there are many ways you can help. Lack of planning is a real concern--it can lead to chaos, uncertainty, and expensive legal fees. Your loved one, like many people, may put off estate planning because they don’t want to think about tough subjects like end-of-life medical decisions or their own mortality.
You can find peace of mind for you and your loved one by getting the conversation going, figuring out who should make key decisions, and making an estate plan that addresses your loved one’s wishes.
First, start the conversation. This can be the hardest part because your loved one might want to avoid this subject. Consider when and where you have this discussion. For example, try talking to your loved one in their home or another comfortable setting rather than in a lawyer’s office, which may seem cold or adversarial. Bring up the subject during a calm time when your loved one is least likely to be under stress.
Tell your loved one why you’re concerned and be clear about your intentions. You might point out the significant benefits of having an estate plan in place, such as:
Talking about an estate plan can be an ongoing discussion. To help your loved one open up, you might talk about what you put in your own estate plan and how you came to the decisions you made.
Help your loved one figure out who will be the decision makers when he or she dies or is no longer able to make decisions about money or health care.
For medical decisions, your loved one can use a durable power of attorney for health care to appoint an agent. The agent – in some states called a surrogate or proxy—will have the power to make medical decisions when your loved one can’t make them for him or herself. The right person for this job usually:
Some people prefer to name an agent who has experience in healthcare, but it’s more important to name someone who will act in your interest if you can’t communicate your own wishes. It’s a good idea to name an alternate agent in case the first choice can’t be reached or can’t do the job.
Your loved one will also want to name someone --or several people--to take care of financial issues when he or she can no longer manage them. There are many ways to do this, depending on your loved one’s needs and wishes. You can name an agent or attorney-in-fact to make general or specific financial decisions. You can name a trustee to take care of property you put into a trust. And you can name an executor to wrap up your estate and deal with the probate court after your death.
Good candidates for these roles will be:
The people named to these positions need to be willing to take on these responsibilities, so have your loved one talk to any potential agents, trustees, or executors to make sure they’re on board. It might be comforting for these future fiduciaries to know that they can (and should) seek legal advice if they need guidance performing their roles.
You may need to help your loved one make some difficult decisions. For example, he or she may need to:
After your loved one has laid the groundwork for their estate plan, you can help them create their documents. With WillMaker Plus you can create a will, powers of attorney, a living trust, and final arrangements. The program walks you through each step and gives you lots of help along the way. For complex estates—if you or your loved one prefers to work with a professional—get help from an experienced estate planning attorney in the state where your loved one lives.
You can also help your loved one keep the estate plan up to date. Your loved one might want to update a named agent or executor if a relationship changes or if the named person dies or becomes incapacitated. Or sometimes a marriage, divorce, death, or birth of a child may trigger a desire to update the beneficiaries in a will or trust.
You may be able to update an existing document with an amendment or codicil. But unless the change is very simple, it’s usually clearer to revoke the old document and create a new one using good self-help materials (like WillMaker) or with help from an attorney.