I recently saw a newsletter that a financial institution produced. The newsletter was essentially a list of five documents that everyone needs.
Although I’m guessing that the newsletter is used in multiple states, as the information was more than a little generic, it did offer some helpful insight, and, at least in my opinion, an odd one.
The first document that the newsletter said that everyone needs is a durable power of attorney, or POA. I couldn’t agree more. I hear all of the time how important a will is, but rarely do I hear how important an POA is.
I know that no one wants to hear it, but in a medical emergency, you are far more likely to become disabled than you are to die. In my opinion it’s as important to have a POA as it is to have will.
I can’t begin to tell you how many times I hear that "mom is disabled and the hospital said that she should get a POA." Folks, if you wait for a medical emergency, it may be too late.
Remember that when you actually need a POA, you may not be able to execute one.
The second document that the newsletter recommended was an advanced medical directive. The most common advanced medical directive is the living will.
As most of you know, a living will provides that, if you are terminally ill and death will occur within a short period of time, and providing you with medical care will only prolong the dying process, you instruct that the medical care be withheld.
The flip side of the living will is the life prolonging procedure declaration, which is the "hook me up to everything you got cause I’m sticking around as long as possible" document.
Again, I agree that a living will should absolutely be a part of your estate plan. It’s your best opportunity to address end-of-life decisions. I don’t know about you, but I want a say.
The third document on the newsletter's list is a will. I don’t want to spend much time on wills, but obviously a will is really important and everyone should have one.
The fourth document the newsletter suggests is a living trust. I’m a big fan of trusts, but I’m not sure that I agree that a living trust should be a part of everyone’s estate plan. Trusts are great — I have one — but they aren’t for everyone. I’m a maybe on this one.
The final document that the newsletter suggests everyone have is a “letter of instruction.”
To be honest, I wasn’t even sure what an estate planning letter of instruction was. After reading the paragraphs, it became clear that a letter of instruction is a set of directions that they think you should leave your family to address things like final arrangements.
Here is my problem with a letter of instruction: it’s not legally binding. If your family wants to ignore it, they can.
Also, if you want to leave instructions concerning final arrangements, execute a funeral planning declaration. That can at least be enforced. Don’t address important things like final arrangements without a way of enforcing your directions.
I like the idea of a letter of instruction. Your family will have lots of questions after you pass, and a letter answering those questions or giving direction sounds helpful, but don’t think that it is a necessity, because it isn’t.
I guess the moral of the story is there are three really important things that everyone should have in their estate plan, one that's kind-of-important, and one that would be nice but really isn’t all that important.