Estate planning is something that seems very overwhelming to most people, myself included. The idea of having to hire lawyers just seems like a big, time-consuming task. It was one of those things I always said I’d get around to eventually. I understood that it was important, but I thought of Estate Planning as something that only old people had to worry about. Recently however, I learned how very wrong that idea was.
Recently my partner’s father went in for what should have been a routine surgery. Two days after the surgery, while still in the hospital, he suffered a massive stroke and lost his ability to move his right side and speak. During the next few weeks he had to undergo multiple major surgeries, including removing part of his skull. For almost a month he was unconscious in the ICU before being transported to a rehab facility. Now, eight weeks later, he is just starting to relearn how to speak and eat without a feeding tube, but still cannot move his right side.
The minute he had the massive stroke we had to start making major medical and financial decisions, except there was a problem with that. His son and daughter did not have the legal authority to make many of the necessary decisions when it came to his care. We had no clue where his estate planning documents were. Once we found them a few days later we realized the plan was out of date. He had drafted all of his important documents while his children were minors and had left his brothers, who live far away, in charge of making decisions. His children, now 25 and 27, both live with him in his house and wanted to be able to not only manage his care but the house and estate as well. This meant they had to go into court to get and emergency temporary guardianship and temporary conservatorship. The last thing they wanted to do while their father’s life was hanging in the balance was go to court, but to be able to properly manage his care they had no choice. Fortunately, I recently came to work in the Probate Department at Special Needs Law Group, which has given my partner and his family invaluable help.
Estate planning definitely seems like a daunting process, though a good attorney can make it much easier. Taking the time to meet with an attorney is far less stressful than potentially forcing your loved ones to jump through hoops to take care of you if something happens. More importantly I learned that estate planning isn’t just about wills for when you die, but it also gives you the legal authority to help the people you love if the worst should come to pass and someone needs to make decisions. Taking the time to put together an estate plan is a critical part of making things easier for your loved ones should something ever happen.
- Kate Donnelly
Paralegal, Special Needs Law Group of Massachusetts, PC
Comment by Attorney Worthington: The person Kate is speaking of (I’ll call him “J”) did well to do his estate planning twelve years ago. But estate planning is more than just the documents. The documents embody the larger plan. Part of that larger plan is to know where the original documents are, and let key people (like family members) know where they are. Another important part of the larger plan is to recognize that estate planning is a process, not a single event. Had J kept his plan up-to-date, the right people (in this case, his now-grown son and daughter) would have instantly had all the power and authority they would have needed to act on J’s behalf and in his best interests, whether it be medical decision-making or financial. You should review your estate plan every one to three years to determine if any changes are in order. At the very least, there may have been changes in the law that could affect you. However, this is just one thing that you should be aware of; with our next newsletter we will cover what other life events would make necessary to review your estate plan sooner.