Making an estate plan tends to be something people ignore until the last minute. These documents are considered important, but only for those who are old or dying. Why would a person under 40 need an estate plan?
Estate planning is a safety net. It is there if the unthinkable happens. If you die or are incapacitated, a proper estate plan can help to make sure your loved ones aren’t left to pick up the pieces.
While traditionally estate planning is considered to be a person’s final wishes, plans can and should also include documents such as medical power of attorney and advanced healthcare directives. A healthcare directive will designate an agent to make those important medical decisions on your behalf.
New York recognizes three types of advanced directives. A Healthcare Proxy is the only advanced directive that gives you the power to appoint an agent to make medical decisions on your behalf and leave a written statement regarding medical decisions in advance. The Living Will allows you to leave medical instructions but does not designate an agent to act in your proxy; often the Living Will and Healthcare Proxy form a single document. Finally, a Do Not Resuscitate Order (DNR) can be used to leave resuscitation instructions only.
It is important to ensure that your loved ones know and will respect your wishes in the event of a medical emergency. If you are in an accident and do not have an agent in place, the state will look to your spouse, child, parent, or closest relative to make these vital decisions. While New York’s Family Healthcare Decisions Act attempts to find a relative familiar with the patient’s personal, religious and moral views regarding health care, the state’s choice may not reflect your wishes. With people waiting longer to get married and more likely than previous generations to cohabitate for years prior to marriage or not marry at all, designating an agent is more important than ever. An advance healthcare directive can give significant others and partners power they would otherwise be stripped of.
From 1960 to 2012, the number of married households fell from 72% to 50.5%. This is due to a number of factors, including: single-parent households, divorce rates, and non-married couples. If you are a non-married cohabitating couple, proper estate planning can help to ensure that your partner has access to your property at your death. If you live together but the home is in one person’s name, it is possible that the home will go to someone else entirely. This leaves your loved one alone and homeless.
Not all estate planning is focused on end of life. While terminal medical decisions and the distribution of property after death are vital aspects of an estate plan, it is also important to consider instances when you may be incapacitated for a short period of time. If you are in an accident and hospitalized or in a rehabilitation facility, an estate plan can make sure your regular life is there to come back to when you are recovered.
Many people don’t consider who will step in if something happens. While you’re in the hospital recovering, your mortgage payment is still due. While you’re doing physical therapy, your pets still need fed. An estate plan can designate a person to take care of these needs. This person should be someone who is enough a part of your daily life that they have some idea of your schedule.
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