The last thing anyone wants to do is contemplate dying or becoming incapacitated due to serious injury–but think about it. What would happen if you were suddenly taken from your family and friends in a tragic accident, or if you developed a serious illness that prevented you from making critical decisions for yourself? Does anyone close to you know what decisions you would want made, or where you keep all the important papers needed to carry out your wishes?
You need to rectify this situation now. Having the foresight to develop a responsible plan to handle issues that may result from death or incapacitation is a difficult but necessary part of everyone’s life plan. If you haven’t already considered your estate planning needs, take the time to begin structuring critical financial and legal papers–such as wills, trusts, and power of attorneys–documents that can save your family time, money, and pain in a crisis. Making sure you have these documents structured properly and stored in a safe and easily accessible place can have a major impact on the future financial well-being of your surviving relatives.
Elizabeth Woods planned things right. Before losing a bout with cancer, Woods, a faithful member of the Revival Time House of Prayer Church in the Bronx, New York, had been careful to tell her family that she wanted her wake to be held at the church, with her pastor performing the eulogy. She also granted her husband, Joseph Woods, 73, power of attorney, allowing him to arrange and place all of her assets in his name. That made it easier for the family to pay the $5,000 funeral cost and distribute other financial gifts as outlined in Woods’ will.
“When someone you love passes, there’s a lot of grief and emotion,” says Steven Woods, Elizabeth’s 39-year-old son, who handled many of the funeral arrangements. “You don’t think about financial details until [a tragedy] happens. But a lot of people might not have any real plan in place when it does.”
Whether married or single, you need an estate plan to avoid serious consequences that can occur if you were to die or become seriously injured. “For those who have children, you want to make sure that your children are cared for and raised by a person, or persons, who you deem fit to do so,” explains Cheryl Creuzot, president of Wealth Development Strategies L.P., a Houston-based estate and financial planning company. “You also want to make sure that your property passes to the people you want it to pass to, and you want to reduce the erosion of your estate due to administrative costs and taxes.”
PUTTING PAPERS IN PLACE
After their mother’s funeral, Steven, and his 48-year-old brother, David, persuaded their father to let them hire a lawyer to prepare a will for him. Steven notes that his father has substantial assets–including stocks, bonds, and several bank accounts–and a will would ensure that they are dispersed as the senior Woods desires, avoiding squabbles between siblings and legal hassles in state