If you have children or are planning to have children, you are probably like most people and have never written down who should be their legal guardian in case something tragic happens to you. You probably never considered what would happen to you or your little ones if you fell into a vegetative coma. Are the passwords to your bank accounts written anywhere in case you can’t communicate them to your family?
Again, like most people, you probably do everything you can to avoid writing down the passwords to your personal financial accounts so they stay safe, but what if you pass away suddenly? Who will manage your estate and your finances for your children? How will your estate be split up if you have more than one child and other family members? Are your children minors or adults? Are some all grown-up or are some still in school?
The many answers to these questions and more have far reaching consequences for your family and your loved ones. Many of the most common answers to these questions would compound any tragedy by leaving your finances and your family’s well being up in the air. This is why you need estate planning — it’s how you protect your family in the worst-case scenario. Here are three simple yet essential tips every New Yorker should follow when it comes to estate planning:
1. Get A Will. NOW.
Get yourself a will immediately. It’s Adulating 101. With a last will and testament, you control exactly what should be done with your assets, you control who should be the legal guardian of your dependents (meaning your children), and you control who will be appointed as the manager of your estate to make sure your final wishes are followed.
Pro Tip: Make sure you go to an actual estate planning and probate lawyer to do this, not a general practitioner lawyer. The questions asked above are only the tip of the iceberg when planning a will. There are many nuances involved and every decision you make can have unexpected consequences. So go to someone who specializes in drafting wills. Your family will thank you.
2. Obtain A Living Will and Power of Attorney.
A Living Will is totally different from a last will and testament. A Living Will (sometimes called an advance directive) will let the doctors and those around you know if you have no intention in prolonging your life in the event you are unable to communicate this wish yourself. Some people cannot imagine living in a vegetative state and there are many reasons people make this choice. By having a Living Will you make this choice instead of placing the burden of that choice on the shoulders of those around you.
In addition to the Living Will, look into getting a Power of Attorney. You have bills to pay, taxes to file, regular business expenses, and many other repetitive financial responsibilities that you manage. These things don’t pause after a medical emergency. A car crash doesn’t put the gas bill on hold, doesn’t stop the mortgage from being due, and doesn’t magically erase your credit card bills. With a Power of Attorney, you appoint someone the responsibility of taking care of your day to day errands so that you can focus on your health and getting back on your feet.
3. Go See A Lawyer.
Do you watch a YouTube video to build a house? Do you listen to a podcast to learn how to fix your car’s engine? Hopefully not – you hire a contractor and engineer, you take your car to a mechanic for repairs. Just like homes and cars, there are no short cuts for drafting a will. There are certainly services that will write a will for you online, but meeting with an actual lawyer in person is the way to go. It’s the difference between getting fresh sushi or getting pre-made sushi at a gas station.
Find a lawyer who knows New York’s estate statutes and laws. Find a lawyer you get along with and trust. Feel free to call one, two, or even three lawyers – most offer free initial consultations and a true professional will not think twice about you shopping around because lawyers also know the importance of a comfortable attorney-client relationship. When making end-of-life decisions you need someone you trust and you will simply not get that feeling from a website. The bottom line is that one hour with a lawyer in her office will save your beneficiaries and loved ones from further agony in what would already be a very difficult time.