March 2012 – Legal Documents for End of Life

Legal Documents for End of Life

If your spouse or child is in a car accident and is unconscious when they arrive at the Emergency Room, you will need some of these documents for the hospital personnel to allow you to advocate for your loved one or have access to records.

End of Life Planning involves a number of documents that deal with what happens to you and your estates when you die.

  • Wills and Trusts
  • Power of Attorney
  • Living Will or Advance Directive
  • Advance Funeral Plan
  • Ethical Will

A well-designed Will control the disposition of one’s property (estate), cash assets at time of death. These may include bank accounts, land, furniture, buildings, cars, stocks and bonds, proceeds of life insurance and pension plan benefits contained in the deceased person’s estate. The will directs property transfers to a spouse, children or relatives and can ease the tax burden for the recipients. It directs the probate court in the distribution of the property and payment of debts. An Ethical Will is a letter written to survivors dispensing the wisdom of your life to be shared with them.

A valid Will requires that the maker of the Will be:

  • 18 years of age or older
  • Be of sound mind at time of preparation.
  • Must be in writing and signed by the maker
  • Must be witnessed by at least two people by signing at the end of the will in the presence of the maker.

These rules may vary from state to state. To have a self-proving, the witnesses swear to having signed the will before a notary, thus eliminating the need to appear in court to prove their signatures. This is important because one of the witnesses could pre-decease the maker of the will or be difficult to find.

Before You Place Someone on Your Accounts…Consider This

If an older adult decides to place an adult child’s name on the deed to their property, there are some important considerations:

  1. If you deed your house to your child without keeping your name on it, they can sell your home without your permission and force you out of your house;
  2. If you want to add a person to the deed as a joint tenant (an individual with equal interest and right of survivorship), the deed must say (as joint tenants with right of survivorship).
  3. If you add someone as a joint tenant, you cannot sell the property later without their consent. Upon your death the property automatically belongs to the surviving person.
  4. The deed must reflect the name of the current owner. An attorney will need to be contacted to determine the proper procedure to get the correct name on the title.

Life insurance goes directly to the beneficiary. If the beneficiary is the estate, the proceeds will be distributed according to the will. Both federal and estate taxes will need to be paid before distribution of the Will.

There are many ways to avoid the expense and time involved with Probate. Joint Ownership is one way of distributing property to the other owner eliminating the need for Probate. Another option is to designate (TOD) on bank accounts, cars, and other property. TOD means transfer on death to a designated person. A Living Trust also provides a vehicle for avoiding probate. All properties and investments are placed in the Trust Entity. A Trust Entity avoids public scrutiny and the expense of probate.

Written Wills go through Probate. If there is no Will, the estate will go through Probate. Probate can interrupt the flow of cash to one’s surviving spouse whereas a Living Trust keeps on operating without much change. It can also help reduce taxes but it must be funded to be used which means that all assets have to be re-titled in the name of the Trust. A Pour-over Will is a safety net to transfer assets which did not make it into the Trust during the Trust maker’s life.

FREE Webinar on St. Louis Resources for Older Adults

Are you frustrated by spinning wheels trying to find resources that your loved one deserves?  Join me April 4th at 7 p.m. CST for a FREE webinar on St. Louis Resources to Help an Older Adult.