by Elizabeth B. Hickman
Do you consider yourself organized or a good planner? Most of us do – women tend to be planners and caretakers. Have you planned for what happens to you, your personal belongings, hard-earned retirement accounts, family heirlooms, pets, children or real estate should you suddenly “not be with us” as my mother puts it? Or what if you’re single and suddenly injured and hospitalized for two months and unable to speak or handle paying your bills or running your business? What if your husband was in that same accident?
Too often people only think about estate planning as an activity for those figuring out how to give away their millions. The truth is that estate planning isn’t just about death or tax planning – it’s about disability planning, too.
If that suddenly injured single doesn’t have a general durable power of attorney that gives someone else control over her finances and business affairs, then her designated agent – whether mom or a friend – cannot go to her bank and pay her bills for her.
“Oh, I don’t own a house and I don’t have children so I don’t need any estate planning” may have been her excuse. No matter how great her online bill paying system and spreadsheets are, if nobody can access them (since nobody knows where she wrote down any of her passwords) and nobody has legal authority, it doesn’t matter. Chaos. Worst-case scenario – thousands in legal fees to establish a conservatorship at court over a temporarily or permanently disabled person.
If you have a husband or partner as a designated person for health care or financial decisions, you’ve taken a great first step. Consider naming an alternate in your documents, too, in case you are both injured in the same accident.
Attorney Joe Goodman, a partner in our firm, puts it this way: “Do the fire drill” to envision a sudden, unexpected, untimely death or disability. Think about who has keys to your house, who knows your pet’s routine, who knows where your Will is, who knows where your health care power of attorney or general durable Power of Attorney is located. Don’t put everything in a bank safe deposit box – accidents don’t always happen between 9 and 5. Whatever your age and whether you are in a relationship or not, think about your planning…and do that fire drill!
Elizabeth B. Hickman is a Nashville-based attorney with Goodman Callahan Blackstone, PLLC, a boutique tax and estate planning firm that also focuses on family business succession planning, estate litigation and probate. Ms. Hickman concentrates her legal work on helping families with the probate and estate administration process when loved ones pass away, as well as assisting clients with conservatorships and the administration of trusts. http://www.gcbtaxlaw.com/