Basics of Estate Planning: Estate Planning for Major Life Events

May 14, 2018

Blog Author: Stephen C. Hartnett, J.D., LL.M. (Tax), Director of Education,
American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys, Inc.

This is another in a series of blogs on the basics of estate planning.
Estate planning attorneys do many things. We help people structure their affairs for the various stages of their lives.
When the client is starting out, we may help them establish a basic plan. This might include:

  • A Financial General Durable Power of Attorney. This would allow someone to make financial decisions for them if they were unable to make them for themselves. We might draw up a Special Power of Attorney for the agent to do a specific task, like sell the client’s car while the client is living in Europe temporarily.
  • A Health Care Directive, including a Health Care Power of Attorney to allow others to make medical decisions for them if unable to do so for themselves. Also, this might include a Living Will, expressing the client’s wishes regarding End-of-Life decisions.
  • A HIPAA Power which gives certain people, such as the fiduciaries above or family members access to protected health information.
    As the client matures, we might draft a more robust plan including:
  • A Revocable Trust. This would allow for a more seamless management of assets during incapacity and would avoid probate in the event of death.
  • Business Entities. These entities could provide structure for the management of a business and insulate the client’s personal assets from the creditors of the business.
  • Charitable Giving. There are many ways to give charitably to maximize the tax savings and the impact of the gift. This would include Charitable Remainder Trusts and other strategies, such as the contribution of appreciated assets.
  • Leaving a Legacy. This might include charitable entities such as a private foundation to further philanthropic goals long after the client is gone. It may also be as simple as helping the client preserve the family stories and passing along the history which makes each person unique.
    As the client nears the end of life, we might come full circle and counsel them regarding:
  • Updates. It’s important to update the plan periodically in light of changing circumstances. This is particularly important as the client nears the end of life.
  • End-of-Life decisions. As the client nears the end of life, they may want to revisit the choices they’ve made regarding their Health Care Directive. When the end is near, sometimes people make different choices regarding how and when they want to exit. They will want to consider the best choice for a health agent and determine who shares their values and would be most willing and able to carry out their wishes. In states which recognize a right to physician-assisted suicide, such as California, we might advise them regarding this option of death with dignity.

Estate planning attorneys counsel clients in all stages of life. We help clients with decisions about large financial matters and matters which impact their descendants for generations. But, one of the most important things we do is to help the client and their family face the end of life with the peace-of-mind of knowing that they’ve taken care of things.

It takes a special person to be an estate planning attorney, to counsel a client in each stage of life. This requires a great deal of empathy, especially as the client nears the end. If you are interested in furthering your skills regarding counseling a client nearing the end, there is a multi-disciplinary symposium in San Francisco in December. This is the first year of what promises to be an annual event: End Well: Design for the End of Life Experience.

In upcoming blogs, I’ll discuss more on the basics of estate planning.

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