When there’s a discussion about preparing a will, the focus is usually on what’s left to give — money, a car and family heirlooms.
But you need an overall estate plan that covers more than your possessions.
Should you become incapacitated, a “living will” can dictate what life-prolonging procedures you prefer, if any. And, as the late Sen. John McCain did, you get to tell folks what you want — from the funeral guests to the music to the burial. In the case of McCain’s last wishes, it was the absence of President Trump.
And after what Trump had said about McCain — a decorated prisoner of war in Vietnam — I don’t blame him. In 2015, then-candidate Trump criticized McCain’s military service by saying, “He’s not a war hero. He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured.”
Old wounds often can’t be healed.
Your will and all the documents that make up your estate give you a final say. You make a choice regarding end-of-life medical measures. You get to decide how the assets you’ve accumulated are distributed. When planned right, it’s the decedent’s wishes that carry weight.
Legendary singer Aretha Franklin is being laid to rest this week, and a court filing revealed that she didn’t have a will. Franklin’s longtime attorney said he had begged the Queen of Soul to get a will or trust, according to news reports.
“Perhaps she felt she had done and given everything to her four sons in life until adulthood,” one reader wrote. “Leaving a will is a personal choice.”
But it’s a bad personal decision not to prepare all the documents that can help in a smooth administration of your estate.
Estate planners and advisers say that when it comes to estate planning, they can sometimes take on the role of family therapist. Forty-four percent of estate-planning professionals said family conflict outdoes other issues affecting people’s estates — ahead of taxes and market volatility, according to a survey by TD Bank.
You can’t plan away all conflict, but you can reduce the likelihood of complete disorder. Here are the documents you should have to help carry out your final requests, according to Colleen Carcone, an attorney and director of wealth-planning strategies at TIAA.
● Letter of instruction. Since the will may not be read right away, you’ll need to leave instructions about your funeral and burial. For example, I want to save my family money by being cremated. And I want upbeat music in celebration of a life well lived.
Consider a letter of instruction a crib note of the location of your financial assets. Include information about any insurance policies or military service. Use the letter to pass along passwords to your computer and smartphone.
● A will or trust. “It’s imperative that you have a will, but there’s also a number of documents that you must have to provide for your lifetime should things go awry,” Carcone said.
One such document is a durable power of attorney, which enables someone to manage your finances, such as paying your bills, if you are unable to do so yourself. But be careful whom you trust with your power of attorney. This is a powerful document.
Some folks may need a trust. For instance, if you have a child who is disabled and will continue to require care into adulthood, you should establish a supplemental or special-needs trust.
A trust also will bypass probate and keep your estate affairs private, Carcone said. (In another column, I’ll discuss further the difference between a will and a trust. For now, I’ll say this: If your financial affairs are relatively simple, you don’t need a trust, which can cost substantially more than a will.
● Personal property memorandum. One of the top reasons people put off creating a will is that they can’t decide who’s going to get certain property, such as a painting or jewelry, Carcone said.
So, complete your will, and then use the memorandum to take your time in dividing up keepsakes, she said. Be sure to refer to the memo in your will.
● Advanced health-care directives. In addition to the living will, you should have a “health-care proxy,” which names somebody to make medical decisions on your behalf. The proxy gives your doctors permission to speak to your designated agent about your condition.
Where there’s a will or trust — and all the documents that go with it — there’s a way to carry out your wishes.
So, when you die, do you want peace or chaos? Because that is the choice you’re making when you fail to plan your estate.