• Joanne Peters

Create an All Important Legacy Binder.

One thing to remember as you begin getting all your affairs in order, it will be one of the most important things you do in your entire life. This truly is a “Gift” to yourself and your family members.

In the spring of 2016 I was feeling a bit stuck. Filled with essential information for aging parents and their adult children, things that we all needed to help guide us through the Next Great Chapter of our lives.

Having experienced a health “Crisis” with both aging parents, I just wanted others to have some knowledge of what can be done ahead of time with some advanced planning.

Planning for the future is important. I think we would all agree there is much truth to that statement. We’ve been planning for our entire lives up to this point. Planning for college, educating yourself for the right job, planning the wedding, planning the vacations, planning for financial security, planning for retirement, planning, and more planning!

Yet, statistics are showing over 60% of Baby Boomers, born between 1946-1964 have not planned for their golden years, not even talked to their loved ones about where the important papers are, let alone created a Last Will and Testament. What if something were to happen and you needed someone to speak on your behalf?

What if the person you have chosen to be your Power of Attorney can’t handle the difficult job?

According to AARP, it is important to put an estate plan together that outlines your desires, goals, and interests that reflect personal wishes during the retirement years and beyond. Your plan for the next chapter may very well become your legacy. Your legacy will transform lives through your interaction with yourself, your spouse and your families. A legacy project will have many parts, in this and future Senior Living articles, you’ll be learning how to put your own Legacy Project together step by step.

Because important documents are such an important topic we’ve invited Janet Wallace, Trusts and Estates Attorney to join in on this conversation for the benefit of our readers. Her company O’Leary Wallace LLP is located in Atascadero and San Luis Obispo. They’re known as Trusted Advisors and Steadfast Advocates. Janet teaches Estate Planning and Administration at Cuesta College specializing in Probate, Trusts, Estate Planning, and Living Wills.

Let’s start with STEP 1 Important Documents ~ Today we are going to take a look at this type of planning which might lighten our mental load. Just ask yourself this one question; am I holding back and not dealing with this topic? Let’s see why this might be a tough assignment to handle. Just by thinking of your important papers, like a last will and testament or power of attorney can get your head spinning or just simply stress you out.

Imagine your job is to begin unpacking this exceptionally large, oversized, Backpack, all weighing on your shoulders; you know you’ve got to get this monkey off your back in order to relax again. Inside this Backpack, you’ve got a lifetime of memories, a lifetime of family dynamics, and a lifetime of stuff. Mix in a few misunderstandings, a few fallouts, a bunch of heirlooms in the family attic. Do not forget to add your own personal history of things you need to do but have not done, perhaps some health issues that are worrisome, financial issues, and again family dynamics running through it all. Do you see how this load becomes heavy over time?

Honestly, everyone’s backpack gets much heavier over time. Here are some tips for you when you decide to begin lightening that load. One thing to remember as you begin getting all your affairs in order, it will be one of the most important things you do in your entire life. This truly is a “Gift” to yourself and your family members. Instead of saying I’ve been meaning to do this, we’ll give you the steps to do this right now.

Let’s start unpacking those thoughts and fears, let’s see what tips Janet has for us. When I start helping clients unpack their metaphorical backpacks, I often find that concerns about family members and loved ones weigh heavily. Will my family members get along when I’m gone? Will they be burdened by my death? How can I ensure that my loved ones find peace in my absence?

Organizing your affairs is a gift to your loved ones. You have the power today to make decisions that will impact the people you love during your incapacity and beyond your death. Start by gathering all your important documents. Put a file together that documents all your health care history. List your current doctors, dentist, vision and hearing professionals, along with their contact information. Add a copy of your insurance cards and any Medicare information necessary. Include information on your long term care policies. Put together a financial file that contains all bank accounts, insurance policies and passwords to access online accounts.

Create a home file. Your home file will contain the deeds for your primary residence, rentals, and timeshares. Add information about your mortgage, home insurance policies, and property tax information. In addition, add information about your home maintenance and utilities, along with contact information for your gardener, painter, and handyman.

Finally, create a file for your pets. List the names, breeds, ages, and veterinarians for your furry and feathered friends. List the special person who is willing to take care of your pets. You can even leave specific instructions in your trust for your animals. Now that you’ve gathered your existing important documents, it’s time to put legal documents in place.

As you begin to create your legal documents you will be faced with decisions that may be difficult. Considering your own incapacity and death can be stressful and scary. However, as you work through the decisions, you will begin to feel your load lighten. Estate planning is not just about our eventual deaths, it is also about securing our legacies, protecting our families, and creating peace of mind.

The first set of legal documents will help ensure that the right decisions are made during a period of incapacity. If you do not put the proper documents in place and become incapable of handling your own financial affairs, a judge may have to determine that you are incapacitated. The judge will then select someone to handle your affairs. In California, this legal arrangement is called a conservatorship. You can avoid this court involvement in your financial and personal affairs by making choices now about who will assist you during a period of incapacity. By naming individuals to assist you, using the proper legal documents, you can control who will be responsible for taking care of your affairs.

A power of attorney is a legal document giving a person you choose the power to act for you. The agent can have broad legal authority or limited authority to make legal decisions about your property and finances. Your agent will be able to pay your bills, file your taxes, and ensure that your assets are protected.

You also have the right to name someone to make healthcare decisions for you. An advance health care directive allows you to choose the person or people who will make your health care decisions if you are unable to make your own decisions. In addition to choosing a health care agent, you also have the right to give instructions about your own health care. In your advance health care directive, you can express your wishes regarding alleviation of pain and whether you want your life to be prolonged, among other choices. Making these decisions in advance allows your agents to know that they are making the right choices for you based on your own wishes and values.

Finally, your advanced health care directive allows you to provide post-death authority and instruction. Do you want to donate organs? Do you want a funeral or celebration of life? Do you want to be cremated or buried? Making these decisions in advance of your death means that your loved ones will be faced with fewer decisions when they are grieving. Some people elect to make their own arrangements--from paying for cremation or purchasing a burial plot to donating their body to scientific research. The paperwork associated with these arrangements should be kept with your advanced health care directive. Finally, you may wish to leave specific instructions for your funeral or celebration of life. Do you want a formal service at your family church? Do you want a big party with funny stories and champagne toasts? Do you want your family to convene in nature to say goodbye?

You have the power to communicate these desires and be assured your family will celebrate you in the way you desire. When you pass away, you will leave behind stories, memories, and, no doubt….stuff. What will happen to your home, cash in the bank, investments, bonds, your car, your business interests, family photo albums, treasured jewelry, and the heirlooms in the family attic? If you do not put the proper documents in place, the law will determine how your assets will be distributed pursuant to intestate succession. Intestate succession refers to the order in which spouses, children, siblings, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and so on will inherit when a deceased person has not left proper instructions.

A court may have to oversee the process, which will cost the estate both time and money. You can control the distribution of your assets by executing a last will and testament. In your last will and testament, you will lay out what happens to your assets and belongings. You will also choose an executor who will manage your affairs after your death.

A common misconception in estate planning is that creating a last will and testament means your estate will avoid probate. Probate refers to a court case that deals with deciding if a will exists and is valid, followed by the administration of the estate. In a probate case, a representative is appointed by the court to collect the assets. The court then supervises the payment of any debts and expenses, and distribution of the remainder of the estate to the beneficiaries. Probate can be an expensive and time consuming process and, importantly, is not avoided by simply executing a last will and testament.

Many people interested in avoiding probate execute a living trust. A living trust is a legal document that places your assets in trust for your benefit during your lifetime. After your death, the assets held in the living trust are managed by the trustee of your choosing and distributed according to your directions without court supervision, saving your loved ones time and money. A living trust is a revocable and amendable document so you can change it at any time during your lifetime. Finally, I find that one of the heaviest items in the metaphorical backpack relates to decisions about children, grandchildren, or loved ones with special financial or health needs. Who will take care of my minor children if something happens to me? How can I protect an adult child who will spend an inheritance in an ill advised way? How can I ensure that my grandchildren will have funds to attend college? How can I provide funds to a loved one who has special needs?

If you are willing to unpack these concerns, they can be addressed and, in addressing them, lighten your load considerably. Put all your legal documents into one file or binder. Gather all of your files--collectively, your legacy documents--into one place. Your Legacy Documents can go into a binder or a file box in order to keep your important documents accessible and organized. Make this easy to find when your chosen agents need to act on your behalf.

Inside your binder or box they’ll find; ● Your Legal Documents: Power of Attorney, Advanced Health Care Directive, Will, Trust, etc. ● Your Personal Information: Social Security cards, Birth Certificates, Passports, etc. ● Your Health Care File: list of doctors and contact info, drugs you take, and history ● Your Financial File: institutions, passwords, safe deposit box ● Your Pet File: information about your animals ● Contact information for the family and friends you want contacted about your death ● Spiritual Journal and Memorial requests.

This project will benefit your families communication channels, and you will find yourself less worried by unloading that backpack even more. You can have fun when creating your Legacy Project. Try writing a few interesting stories for your loved ones to remind them about fond memories you had, or a special moment you shared together. Gift wrap that special afghan for your granddaughter, or special baseball for your grandson. Make sure you leave a little note tucked inside too. This has been a crash course in helping you begin pulling all those details together ahead of time. This will save you lots of stress and weight on your shoulders so you can enjoy yourself worry-free in the future. Don’t wait on this project, do it now, while you can enjoy it, knowing your family will appreciate this thoughtful “gift” you have made for them.

If you are interested in a private class, we can work together and within 30 days you’ll have your own Legacy Box & Grab n’ Go Binder ready for when someone needs to act on your behalf; when you can’t speak for yourself.

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