As an attorney and Certified Financial Planner with a broad practice encompassing wills, estates and trusts, estate administration, small and medium corporate clients and a swath of litigation, one might reasonably expect that my personal house would be in order. Alas, throw in high school and college aged children, and a spouse with a busy career and you get….a barefoot cobbler. Yes, I am admitting that until very recently the Allman family had neglected to update all our necessary legal documents. A late night binge of COVID-19 news watching prompted The Wife to remark “Hey, I don’t think I ever finished my new Will. And what else do we need in case we get really sick?”
The next morning after propping myself up with a viewing of the Eagles winning Super Bowl LII, The Wife and I sat down to put our legal house in order. (The actual house? Forget it. The dogs have taken over.) And now I want to share with you a simple list of documents everyone should have completed to put their minds at ease (at least with regards to estate planning) during this pandemic.
Will - A will or testament is a legal document that expresses a person's wishes as to how his or her property (estate) is to be distributed upon one’s death and as to which person (executor) is to manage the property until its final distribution.
Beneficiary Designations for non-probate assets – Beneficiary designations typically direct non-probate assets that pass to the people or entities designated as beneficiaries on certain contracts or accounts, such as life insurance policies, annuity contracts, 401(k) plans, and IRAs.
Advanced Health Care Directive – A legal document in which a person specifies what actions should be taken for their health if they are no longer able to make decisions for themselves because of illness or incapacity. A living will is one form of advance directive, leaving instructions for treatment. Another form is a specific type of power of attorney or health care proxy, in which the person authorizes someone (an agent) to make decisions on their behalf when they are incapacitated.
Financial Power of Attorney - A financial power of attorney (POA) is a legal document that grants a trusted agent the authority to act on behalf of the principal-agent in financial matters. The former is also referred to as the attorney-in-fact while the principal-agent is the person who grants the authority. This kind of POA is also referred to as a general power of attorney.
Of course, completing these documents prompts some very interesting conversations, especially during an extended shelter in place. Apparently, The Wife has a very elaborate post death ritual planned which involves cremation and subsequent “ash sprinkling parties” in three separate locations marking different life phases. After over thirty years together, I suppose I should be gratified that at least one of the three involves me.
Lee R. Allman, JD, LLM, CFP practices law in suburban Philadelphia and is licensed in NJ, PA & NH. Specializing in trust & estate litigation, Lee also has robust experience and success with insurance litigation, nursing home neglect, business disputes, personal injury and small/medium corporate matters. A former Division I wrestler, he delights in channeling a lifelong competitive spirit into delivering positive outcomes for his clients. Please contact Lee at email@example.com with your legal and estate planning questions.