When my aunt was diagnosed with dementia, her immediate family members quickly became concerned not only for health but also her financial well-being. However, because of her emotional state and weakened physical condition she did not seek the appropriate care that was required to manage her financial affairs both for the present and future. A proper estate planning would have mitigated my aunt’s stress as well as her concerned family members. A proper estate plan may include a power of attorney for health care or property, a will, or a trust.
Many people think of an estate plan as something for when you’re elderly or near death. But no matter your net worth, you should have a basic estate plan in place and start your plan now. The estate plan ensures that your family and financial goals are met after you die. When you are in good health it is much easier to make better decisions about your future. Unlike my aunt, she was not able to adequately plan for her family’s financial future because of her condition.
For example, if you ever become incapacitated and are unable to make decisions for yourself regarding your finances or health care, you need to know who would make decisions for you? A family member? A friend? Possibly, if the court proceedings determine they are the proper choices for you. However, it is not recommended to take that chance. Instead, it is better to take the opportunity now to determine who should be making decisions on your behalf through a power of attorney. A power of attorney enables you to appoint who will manage your finances and health care decisions in the event that you become unable to do so yourself. This tool also will help you and your family avoid the time and expense of a court proceeding to determine who will make decisions for you if you are incapacitated. A power of attorney offers flexibility, because you still have the authority to make your own decisions. Your power of attorney simply allows the agent to make decisions for you if you cannot make them yourself. Typically, people will choose a spouse, family member, or close friend as agent.
Another common estate planning tool is a will. A will tells the world where you want your assets distributed when you die and may name guardians for your children. If you die without a will, you will have no say over who gets your assets and Wisconsin intestate principles will determine the outcome. It is not recommended to dodge such a decision that will have important financial consequences for your family. The benefit of a will is that you can always make changes based on your circumstances. Remember you are not only protecting your interests but also your family’s financial future.
Anthony Jackson is an attorney and owner of the Jackson Law Office, 230 West Wells, Suite 600, Milwaukee WI 53203. His practice is concentrated in estate planning, personal injury law, and family law. He can be reached at (414) 704-5680.