Most estate planning advice stories include one theme over and over--plan early and update consistently. Because no one know what the future holds and life changes occur frequently, it is critical to ensure your legal planning will work as you want it to when you need it.
However, that does not mean that there is ever a point when it is too late and not worth crafting a plan. Taking the time to put affairs in order even in the midst of serious illness or terminal conditions can make a world of difference for a family. A recent article provides a helpful discussion that touches on some of the key issues with regard to "deathbed planning."
Late Estate Planning
Is the individual competent to make legal decisions? One initial hurdle is identifying whether or not the ill party is still in a condition to assent to the crafting of a plan or updating of legal documents. It is important to have witnesses, verification from medical professionals, audio recordings, or other proof of competency just in case the issue is challenged down the road. If the individual is not legally competent, then the only other option is for one was previously given authority (via durable powers of attorney) to act on their behalf.
Assuming that the individual is competent or an agent exists, what are the main issues to consider during deathbed planning?
The general goal is to update an older plan or craft new one that covers all of the most fundamental issues. That includes ensuring that executors and trustees are properly named, the provisions of a will or trust documents still reflect the clients wishes, and similar matters. In addition, all beneficiary designations need to be considered. Is the beneficiary on a life insurance policy still correct?
If a plan was created years ago, there is a good chance some things have changed. For example, it is not uncommon for certain children, nieces/nephews, or grandchildren, to be named with others left out. Those not mentioned may simply not have been born at the time the original planning was conducted. Obviously, these oversights need to be corrected near the end.
Administratively, it is also helpful at this time to locate all necessary paperwork, records, and important information that will be needed for estate administration. Similarly, funeral and burial requests should be spelled out clearly. In the heart of grief, it is common for family members to disagree over even the most minor details. Preventing that possible feuding by making these wishes explicit is vital.
Of course there are many other potential issues to consider at this time. But, In short, most deathbed planning involves getting all of the "basics" correct so that assets will be transferred in the desired manner as efficiently as possible.