Most New Year’s resolutions fall along predictable lines: Eat healthier, exercise more, pay down debt, spend more time with family.
These are all good goals, and we hope those who vow lifestyle changes stick with them throughout the year.
At the same time, our estate planning lawyers in Belmont want to encourage you to consider taking this opportunity for a fresh start to get your personal financial affairs in order. The three legal documents everyone – regardless of age, wealth or family size should have – are:
- A will.
- A health care proxy.
- A durable power of attorney.
Many already have these documents, but they are several years old. These records should be updated any time one gets married, divorced, has a child, loses a child, has a significant change in income or a reconsideration on end-of-life care.
But herein lies the problem: Most people don’t want to think about death.Talking wills reminds us of our own mortality. It’s uncomfortable – scary, even. For younger people, it’s often not a consideration because they assume there are many more years left to prepare.
In truth, you probably do have many more years. But there is no guarantee. Failure to have these updated records could not only impact the kind of care you receive if you are rendered unable to speak for yourself, it could leave your reeling family to sort through the many details. This can be an incredibly stressful process, and often causes personal relationship strains because grief is raw and emotions are high.
Making all of your wishes clear ahead of time can relieve your loved ones of a burden and preserve and leave you with a free conscious and the freedom to enjoy life.
Let’s start with the health care proxy. This is a document that clearly states who you wish to speak for you regarding your health care in the event your doctor makes the determination that you are not able to speak for yourself. This kind of advance directive will name someone you trust, someone knows your personal values, wishes and beliefs. It could be a spouse, but it might also be a responsible adult child, a close relative or a dear friend.
Some people make the erroneous assumption that a health care proxy isn’t needed if they have a living will. But under Massachusetts law, a living will only specifies the use of life-sustaining medical treatments in cases of terminal illness. It doesn’t provide for possible complex medical scenarios that could arise.
And if a situation does arise where you are incapacitated, your health won’t be the only thing that needs tended. Your finances will need to be managed, and you want to make sure that it’s done so according to your desires. If you are incapacitated or incompetent, you will lack the capacity to make legally binding commitments. If you don’t have a durable power of attorney named, your family might have to petition the court to appoint a guardian to oversee your finances. This is often expensive and, again, can lead to some bitter feelings.
If you are concerned about having one person with so much responsibility, you can also name joint agents to handle your affairs.
In the event of a death, a will is the primary means by which one ensures his or her last wishes are respected. If you have minor children, you can specify the person or people to whom you would designate their care. You can spell out the distribution of your property, including retirement and insurance accounts, and make sure your home and personal effects are disbursed in accordance with your wishes.
The Brown Law Firm, LLC, has offices in Belmont and Boston. For a free and confidential consultation, call 617-489-0817 or contact us online.
14 Financial Resolutions for 2014, Dec. 27, 2013, By Erik Carter, Forbes.com
More Blog Entries:
MASSACHUSETTS LAWYERS’ SEASONAL GREETING, Dec. 24, 2013, Massachusetts Wills Attorney Blog