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Planning Ahead: What To Consider When You're Ready To Start Planning

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Planning Ahead: What To Consider When You're Ready To Start Planning 

By: Attorney Laura M. Nelson

"No one wants to die. And yet death is the destination we all share." STEVE JOBS, Commencement Address, Stanford University, 06/12/2005

Providing for your immediate family; easing the strain on your family during a particularly painful time in their lives; minimizing expenses; planning for incapacity at any age; enjoying your retirement years through advanced planning.

These are just a few excellent reasons to begin planning and protecting your estate now.

What is an estate?

Your estate is everything you've worked so hard to build and accumulate; that's the short answer. To be more exact, your estate includes:

· Your home and other real estate titled in your name

· Tangible personal property, like cars and furniture

· Intangible personal property, such as life insurance, bank accounts, stocks and bonds, pension and retirement accounts

Is an estate plan only for the elderly and sick?

Absolutely not! While we naturally avoid thinking or talking about death or end-of-life decisions when we're young and healthy, the heartbreaking truth is that tragedy can strike and interrupt even the best laid life-plans. Even if misfortune leaves only physical or mental incapacity in its wake, not death, what plan will you have to protect you and those you love?

What are some options?

For the most comprehensive examination of your options based on the size of your estate, you should consult with an attorney; thereafter, you should re-examine your estate plan annually, and if you've gone through any life changes, be sure to consult an attorney about changes to your plan.

Documents you should initially consider (i.e. Advance Directives):

· Power of Attorney for Health Care with Living Will

· Durable Financial Power of Attorney

Is it ever "too late" to make these documents?

Yes. The law is quite clear on this subject. Only a person of sound mind (e.g. mentally competent) who is 18 years or older may sign these documents. Wis. Stats. §§ 154.03 (1), 155.05 (1) So, once incapacity or incompetency has set in - through sudden injury, prolonged illness, or the ravages of age - then the opportunity to execute these documents has passed.

How does the conversation start?

Advance directives are an important tool in your estate plan, but they are meant to be just the beginning. Talk with your family members and close advisers; listen to them, too. Be sure to explain and clarify your values and choices. Following is a list of just a few questions to help you get started:

· What are your values?

-What kind of living environment is important to you?

  -What role do your religious beliefs, if any, play in such decisions?

· Will your family work together to support your decisions or will there be conflict?

· Who do you trust to be your agent(s)?

  -Who will follow through and make the difficult decisions you've asked them to make?

Naming a loved one to make medical decisions on your behalf is a difficult decision. Even more difficult though is the responsibility shouldered by the person you name. Be sure the person you name understands the responsibility and is willing to make the difficult decisions if called upon to do so.

Every estate plan should be uniquely tailored to your specific needs to accomplish your particular goals. Plan ahead; take control; then go ahead and enjoy your life.

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