Q: Why do I need estate planning?
A: Everyone needs estate planning. Life changes, and sometimes those changes come without warning. We all age, and we are all subject to accidents, illnesses and possible disability. An estate planning attorney can help you plan for those changes.
There are two documents you need to have to deal with a possible change while you are living. One is a Durable Power of Attorney for financial matters. This is a document in which you name someone you trust to handle your financial affairs if you are unable to handle those matters yourself. If you become disabled and need this type of help and do not have a Durable Power of Attorney in place, the Probate Court Judge may be asked to appoint someone (a “Conservator” in Tennessee) to manage your financial affairs and make decisions for you with the oversight of the Court. A Court-supervised conservatorship can be expensive and time-consuming, and the Judge may not appoint the person who you would choose to have this responsibility. It is important to decide who you want to take care of your financial matters and put it in writing while you are fully capable of making this decision.
The second document you need while living is a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care. If you become ill or require hospitalization, you may need someone to make medical decisions on your behalf. An estate planning attorney can prepare a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care in which you name someone you trust to make health care decisions for you if you are unable to make those decisions for yourself. Without this designation, the Probate Court could be asked to appoint a Conservator to make those decisions for you.
If you have a minor child, you need estate planning in case something happens to you while your child is a minor. If both parents of a minor child are deceased or unable to care for the child, a Guardian will be appointed by the Probate Court Judge. If you want a voice in who that Guardian is and who your children live with after you are gone, you need to put that choice in a properly executed Will. In your Will you can name the person who you would like to raise your children if you are not able to raise them yourself. The Judge will appoint someone as the child’s Guardian, and the designation in the parent’s Will is usually the only way the parent can have a voice in who is named.
Life changes, and we all need to plan for those changes. It is important to take action while we can, while we are able-bodied and sound of mind. Sometimes the unexpected happens, and then it is too late to put in place the proper planning to care for ourselves and our loved ones. That is why we all need estate planning.