The Value of an Estate Plan at Any Age

My name is Ashley Algarvio. I am the Lead Case Manager at Surprenant & Beneski, P.C. and I have had the pleasure of working for Dan Surprenant & Michelle Beneski for almost 18 years.  Our office has grown so much over the years. It is really amazing to be a part of such a wonderful firm.  Dan and Michelle are siblings and are so very down to earth but also knowledgeable, compassionate and intelligent. They are truly experts in their field.

When I first came to work for Surprenant & Beneski, I had never really heard of estate planning or any of the basic documents.  Very quickly, I came to realize how important these documents are for anyone to have in place.  It does not matter if you are young, old, rich or poor. These documents are super important and will save you so much money and headaches. 

I have had my own estate plan done with Surprenant & Beneski and I talk with my friends about having their documents done as well.   Most of my friends are married, have children and some own businesses.  You would be surprised how many younger people do not realize if their spouse has accounts in their own name and they become incapacitated or pass that the other spouse cannot simply access these accounts. It is really a shock to them when they hear this. Also, they cannot fathom that they might be able to make a health care decision for their spouse without a Health Care Proxy in place.

Let me give you some background on the five basics documents everyone should have.

Durable Power of Attorney-A Durable Power of Attorney allows who you have named to make legal and financial decisions for you if you are unable to make these decisions for yourself. This is very important to have any if you do not have a lot of money or are in perfect health. No one can predict the future. For example if you are in an accident and a legal paper needs to be signed, if you do not have a Power of Attorney then your spouse cannot sign for you. They would have to go to court and apply for what is known as a “Conservatorship”.

Health Care Proxy-A Health Care Proxy allows who you have named as your agent to make health care decisions for you if you are deemed incapacitated/incompetent by a doctor.  Let’s use the example of your spouse getting in a car accident. If you do not have a Health Care Proxy in place, you would not have the ability to make health care decisions for them. If you do not have a Health Care Proxy in place you must apply for a “Guardianship” with the court. Going to court is the last thing you will want to think about if your spouse is hurt. Also, the guardianship process can take time that you may not have and can be very costly.

HIPAA Release-A HIPAA Release is a document in which you can list individuals who you wish to have  access to your private Health Care information.  There may be instances where you would like your spouse, children, parents to have access to this information. It can be very frustrating if you need someone to call an insurance company about a bill or a claim and the company will not speak with your spouse or anyone but you. This also allows individuals to get results from tests or find out other health related information.

Last Will and Testament-A Last Will and Testament is a document where you name who you wish to receive your probate estate or probate assets.  You can leave your assets to anyone you choose. You can leave assets to charities or individuals.  Anything that is in your name alone when you pass is part of your probate estate and the Will would govern that. Your Will would be filed with the probate court and administered by the Personal Representative you have chosen. We really encourage our clients to avoid probate by naming beneficiaries on their assets and avoiding probate on their homes using various strategies. However, it is also very good to have a Will in case you are unable to take care of avoiding probate, for whatever reason.

Advance Directive– An Advance Directive is a document that you can fill out as a guide to assist your decision makers in making healthcare decisions during incapacitation or end of life decisions for you.  The Advance Directive is not legally binding but its purpose is to provide peace of mind to your decision makers when the time comes to make difficult decisions. If you have a document in place that lays out your wishes it could ease some of the burden on your decision makers. This document can be cumbersome but just think of it as peace of mind for your loved ones. This is a document that will take you some time to think about and complete but in the end you will be grateful for it.

Now that you know the basics, I do strongly encourage you to really think about your life, your assets, your situation, your children. Having these documents in place will provide you with the peace of mind and relieve your stress so that you do not have to worry about what happens in the future, even if its tomorrow or 50 years from now. This is the first step to providing a good solid base for an estate plan that will truly work for you and your family, at any age.