older couple meeting with attorney john nelson to do estate planning, wills, power of attorney and health card surrogate.

Estate Planning should I share??

Meeting with estate clients is one of my favorite parts of my job as an attorney. I often joke that I should get an invitation to Thanksgiving Dinner because we discuss everyone in the family, the good and the bad.

My method is to challenge my clients to think outside the box with their estate plan and ensure we have considered all possibilities. For instance, a spouse does not have to be the health care surrogate or power of attorney, especially when late in life cognitive issues are on the horizon. I also explain we can take the burden off a spouse and have a child or sister step in.

The Estate Plan, at the simplest level typically consists of four documents: a living will, health care surrogate, power of attorney, and Last Will and Testament.

The Living Will is a guiding document that allows the surrogate or co-surrogates to confer with medical personal regarding terminal, end-life, and final stages of life decisions.

I feel strongly about the Health Care Surrogate being the most important document as I cared for my Mom prior to her passing. This is the document that provides the surrogate with access to health care information, test results for instance, and allows a surrogate to make health care decisions.

The Power of Attorney similarly has an Agent, or Attorney-in-Fact, appointed. This document manages the client’s financial affairs and allows property to be sold, checks deposited, banking transactions to occur, and taxes to be paid.

The above three documents are in use while the client is alive and this issue arises frequently in my meetings.

Lastly, the Last Will and Testament is discussed. Again, a personal representative, similar to the agent above must be decided upon. And, of course beneficiaries.

So the question I am asked at the end of an estate planning session, or document signing is, “Do I need to tell my family?” Or, “do I need to give a copy of the documents?”. I like to think of the estate plan like our underwear drawer at home!! You can let others know you have an underwear drawer but you do not need to open it show what you wear. The same is true for an estate plan – it is acceptable to just let your agents or family members know you have an estate plan but they don’t need to know the details. Depending on your situation, of course.