Set Your Plan in Motion
By Ronald Ward, Jr., The Ward Law Firm, Northshore LIVING WELL Magazine
Planning can be an enjoyable activity. When planning a trip, we often read books, magazines, and internet articles about our destination. Where will we stay? What will we eat? How will we get there? How long will we stay? Admittedly, retirement planning is less enjoyable for most people than planning a trip to Europe. Even so, this planning should bring you peace of mind. By eliminating the unknown and embracing a plan, our human nature finds comfort in moving toward our goal if we have an estate plan.
The peace of mind that comes from taking time to set an estate plan in place will help answer: How much money do I need? Where will I live? Where will I place my investments? While you may already know many of the instruments used in estate planning, we will discuss the most common types of estate planning devices. You may find that your current estate plan is incomplete or needs some attention.
Although a will is the most common estate planning device, it is often the one estate planning tool that can cause the most difficulties if not properly executed or neglected and not revised and updated as time passes and personal circumstances change. Your will is your opportunity to deliver your assets to the people or entities of your choice, as well as save your heirs both time and money.
With the advent of do-it-yourself computer software, we have seen an increase in the number of improperly executed wills. If your will is not executed properly, you will be deemed to have passed without a will. As a matter of law, your succession will be treated as an intestate succession just as though you never signed a will. If you had a prior will, properly executed, it is possible that the prior will—the one you intended to revoke—would be accepted by the court.
Louisiana law recognizes one type of will that will prove itself in court, the notarial testament. To be effective, the notarial testament must be signed by the testator (the person making the will) on each page in front of two competent witnesses and a notary public. The testator must also have the mental capacity to sign the document. As your life’s circumstances change, you may find that your testament needs to change as well. A person in your will may have died or your favored charity may have changed. There are many common occurrences that should prompt you to revisit your estate plan. If you don’t have a will, it is time to start your plan. If you do have a will, it may be time to update your plan.
A power of attorney gives you the ability to appoint another person to act on your behalf on financial matters. You can decide how your power of attorney should work. You can appoint someone immediately, or delay the appointment being enacted until after you are incapable of making your own decisions, such as following a stroke, etc. If you want to have a say in who will make decisions on your behalf, you should include a power of attorney in your estate plan.
Through a medical power of attorney, you can appoint a person to make your medical decisions if you are unable to do so. You may also include an alternate person, in the event your first choice is unable to serve. Your medical power of attorney will direct your health care provider to look to the person of your choice for your medical decisions if you are unable to make them yourself.
A living will is your declaration of intent regarding life-sustaining procedures when facing a terminal and irreversible condition. Many of us have thought about whether we would want to have our lives prolonged through artificial means. A living will permits you to express your desires in this matter.
Other estate planning tools that can be of assistance to you, under the right circumstances, include; trusts, a corporation, a family partnership, or some variation of these. Your plan may involve including your CPA and/or financial planner. An experienced attorney can accommodate you, and make your plan run smoothly.
Samuel Clemens (as himself, not Mark Twain) reminds us that “wrinkles should merely indicate where smiles have been.” With your plan in place, enjoy your peace of mind and smile.
Ronald Ward, Jr. practices law with his wife, Alycia, in The Ward Law Firm, LLC. He also owns Landmark Title Group, LLC and may be reached at 985-624-5678