Making a Will
August doesn’t just mark the shift from vacation mode back to school and/or work. It’s also National “Make A Will” Month! If you’re one of the 70% of Americans who don’t have a current will – or have never had one to begin with – take advance of this month to either create or update your will and other estate planning documents, including your power of attorney and advance medical directive.
Why is a Will Important?
Your will helps you guarantee that your money and other property go to the family, friends, and/or organizations you want, exactly how and when you want, after your death. If you do not have a will, then your money and property will be distributed pursuant to Virginia’s laws of intestacy. If you don’t get busy making a will, then the state decides what to do with your assets – and who wants the Commonwealth to have that kind of control over their assets?
What is a Will Executor?
In making a will, you list all of your assets – real estate, personal property, bank accounts, heirlooms, items of sentimental value, etc. Then, you decide who (or what organization) you want to receive that particular item or money. You may be wondering who carries out these wishes after your death. That person is called an executor, and just like the other appointees discussed in further detail below, it is important to choose your executor wisely.
Typically, Dunlap Law recommends that each person chooses both a primary executor and a backup executor. That way, if your primary executor is somehow unable or unwilling to carry out your final wishes – or if for example, your primary executor dies before you – then your backup executor can serve in that role instead. Many people name their spouses/significant others as their primary executor and then name an adult child or younger trusted friend as a backup to address this exact problem.
Power of Attorney
A power of attorney is almost as important as your will. A will specifies your wishes after death, but a power of attorney authorizes a person to act in your place now (or upon conditions that you specify). If you have an accident on the job or become very ill and unable to speak for yourself, your appointed agent steps in to make important decisions on your behalf.
Power of Attorney Limitations
If you don’t have a power of attorney, you may end up the subject of a court case to have a guardian and/or conservator appointed to take care of your affairs. Guardians and conservators play important roles for many people, but getting them appointed is both expensive and public. Getting your power of attorney in order before you need it is a much more cost-effective and private solution.
A brief note: powers of attorney terminate upon your death. So even if you want the same person to serve as your authorized agent under your power of attorney but also as your executor under your will, you need both documents in order to make sure you’re protected on both fronts! And if you want different people to serve in each role, then your documents need to say that too.
Advance Medical Directive (Health Care Power of Attorney)
An advance medical directive, which is also often called a health care power of attorney, is a document that
(1) appoints someone to act as your agent if you are unable to communicate with medical professionals, and
(2) sets forth your explicit wishes regarding acceptance and refusal of medical treatment.
This might seem unnecessary if you trust your “next of kin” to speak for you, but in many cases, that person may not be capable of making medical decisions for you – their loved one – in a calm and rational manner.
Their opinion of the care that you need may also differ from what you want for yourself – massive court battles have been fought on this exact issue! Preparing an advance medical directive eliminates these concerns.
What if I’m Single?
Even if you’re single, you still need a will, power of attorney, and advance medical directive. Whether you want to leave everything to your best friend or to your favorite charitable organization, you need to have those wishes written down in your will order for them to be followed after your death. Powers of attorney and advance medical directives are similarly important; you need to make sure that you have chosen the people to look out for you if you can’t look out for yourself!
Dunlap Law hopes this information has inspired you to think about your estate planning documents. Contact us today to get your plan in order!