There’s a saying: “Life is what happens when you were busy making plans.” Unfortunately, the same can also be said of death. It’s all too easy to put off making plans for what will happen to you rmoney and property after you’re gone. Celebrities like Prince have gone to the other side with no apparent will left behind. That means the state has to figure out exactly who should get their money and property. Not surprisingly, that’s generally a messy and contentious process that can take years to fully resolve.
There’s only one Prince. Most of us don’t have millions in property and cash to leave to our successors. But if you’re sitting around thinking your modest house isn’t anything worth fighting over, you’d be surprised. Death and money can bring out some really strong emotions in people.
Get a Lawyer
Your property, cash, and overall assets are what’s known as your estate. If you have debts, they may not die with you, but they probably can’t be inherited by your family members either. Your estate can be used to pay down your debts after you die, so if at all possible, you want to take care of any outstanding debts before you go. Otherwise your children could be in for a nasty surprise.
For that and other reasons, it’s a good idea to speak with an estate planning lawyer regarding options for wills, trusts, and other tools that will help to ensure your estate is divided up the way you want it to be. You can name a personal representative charged with carrying out the instructions in your will. Make sure it’s someone who is both trustworthy and willing to take on that job. If you have minor children, a will should name a person or persons tasked with caring for the kids when you’re gone. Guardianship is a big deal, so make sure you clear it with someone before naming them as a guardian to your children.
The topic of advance directives and living wills makes people even more uncomfortable than talking about what will happen to their property after they die. That’s because advance directives typically provide instructions on what should happen if you become medically incapacitated. No one wants to think of themselves lying in a hospital bed, unable to talk and only vaguely aware of their surroundings. But writing a living will doesn’t make such circumstances any more or less likely to happen to you personally. Instead of having family members fight over your best course of treatment, you can appoint a healthcare proxy to make such decisions for you. You can also prohibit certain treatments like feeding tubes. When someone is in a terminally ill, it’s common for their family members to say things like “Mom wouldn’t want to be kept alive by a machine.” A living will will allow you to speak for yourself before any such situation arises. If you want treatment by a certain doctor at a specific hospital, talk to your lawyer about including such provisions in any advance directives you write. It’s better to speak up now when you’re healthy. Hopefully, you won’t ever need a living will. But it’s better to have one and not need it than vice versa.