The Power of a Basic Estate Plan

Never underestimate the power of a basic estate plan.  Currently, the world is a complex place. Just because the world is so very complicated doesn’t mean that your estate plan must be.  

A basic estate plan focuses on a different set of “P’s” people, property and plans.  Any good estate plan, basic or otherwise should answer two questions: “What happens to my stuff when I die?”  and “What happens if I am seriously ill?”

The center piece of a basic estate plan is a Last Will and Testament. A Will can be a simple document distributing assets outright to your heirs or it can be more complex; planning for all types of situations from minor children to special needs beneficiaries.   Wills only contemplate one thing- your death, but what happens if you don’t die and you just become seriously ill or incapacitated in some way?   Planning for incapacity is just as important as planning for death. 

The core document in an incapacity plan is a Durable Power of Attorney. A Durable Power of Attorney allows you to appoint an agent who can handle your financial affairs if you should become incapacitated.   A Durable Power of Attorney is critically important. In the absence of this document no one has the power to manage your affairs while you are incapacitated and the only way to get that kind of power is to go to court.  Going to court, even the probate court, is not what I would call a cost-effective solution.  Any time you have to get a doctor, a lawyer and a judge involved it is going to be costly.  This problem is easily avoided with a Durable Power of Attorney.

Healthcare Directives and Living Wills are extremely important when planning for incapacity. These documents focus on your health. A Healthcare Directive appoints someone to interact with healthcare professionals and make decisions on your behalf if you are incapacitated.   Just as with the Durable Power of Attorney, in the absence of a healthcare directive your family would have to petition the court to get the power to make healthcare decisions. 

The final piece of a basic estate plan is a Living Will.  A Living Will lets you inform your doctors (and loved ones) your wishes regarding what extraordinary medical procedures you want performed if you are in a terminal condition with no hope of recovery.   It spells out your exact intentions which takes the weight of a decision like that off your family.   In these times it is critically important to have a healthcare agent who can speak for you and a Living Will in place to speak to your wishes regarding end of life decisions. 

Thinking about our own mortality is not an easy thing to do.  Planning for not being here can be stressful. Sometimes it’s hard to even get started.  Focus on people and property. Once you have identified the important people in your life and your property- it is time to make a plan on how to transfer your property to your people.   

If you have estate planning questions that you would like answered in this column, email me at If you ‘d like to come in and talk about updating your existing plan or making a new one, I offer free initial consultation. Virtual, phone and in person consultations are available. Call me at 203-500-0201 to schedule an appointment.

Keep This in Mind When Choosing Guardians for Your Minor Children

Parents today face many tough questions. One of the toughest questions is, “Who will care for my children should I pass away or become incapacitated?”  This is a complicated issue that many people struggle with. Even though it is a tough thing to ponder, parents should nominate a Guardian for their minor children in their estate planning documents. Adding a Guardian is the “easy” part; choosing a Guardian is a more difficult matter. My best advice is to look for a viable choice, not necessarily the perfect choice. The perfect choice does not exist. You are the perfect choice, and you are really looking for a “runner up.”  

How should you approach choosing a Guardian? There is no magic answer. It is a process. Start with an extensive list of possible choices. Make a list of ALL the people you think could be good Guardians. Do not limit yourself. Think about siblings, parents, and other extended family members. Friends can make terrific Guardians as well. 

When choosing a Guardian, I recommend that parents focus on love. Parents should consider if the people on your list could genuinely love your children. Ask yourself, do these people have the capacity to love my children like I do? You want the Guardians to treat your children as you would. Consider their values and philosophies. The people on your list will share your values and philosophies on life, child rearing, religion, and education.

Many parents are overly concerned with the financial situation of potential Guardians. My advice is simple: do not worry too much about the finances or the size of someone’s house. Do not eliminate a person because you think they do not have a high enough net worth. It is your job to financially plan for your children. You can provide funds for your children through proper estate planning. Many parents utilize life insurance to create an instant estate to care for the family that they leave behind. 

Next, consider some of the practical factors associated with Guardianship. How would raising your children fit into the Guardian’s lifestyle? Do they have the necessary health and stamina to raise your kids? Do the potential Guardians have other children? If so, do they have a good relationship with your children? 

There are many important considerations when choosing Guardians. Look for love first and then address the practical factors of whether a person could manage the job of a lifetime. 

If you have estate planning questions that you would like answered in this column, email me at If you ‘d like to come in and talk about updating your existing plan or making a new one, I offer free initial consultation. Virtual, phone and in person consultations are available. Call me at 203-500-0201 to schedule an appointment.

How to Have Difficult Conversations with Your Parents About Their Estate Plan

According to a recent survey conducted by, two out of three Americans do not have a will or other estate plan in place. The most common reason listed by the respondents was they “haven’t gotten around to it.”  When you do not have a plan in place you give up a good amount of control and if you put it off for too long many planning options are cut off.

I recommend that children take an active role in helping their parents make a plan. Talking to your parents about their plan (or lack thereof) is no easy task. Discussing estate planning with your parents can eliminate surprises after they pass away and maybe avoid a disaster while they are living. This is too important of a conversation not to have. 

Getting the conversation started is the hardest part. A few simple guidelines can help turn this conversation into a positive experience. The most important rule (in my experience) is to include ALL your siblings in the conversation. Nothing works quicker to undermine your intentions than excluding someone. Choose a comfortable and private setting for this family meeting that is free from distractions.  Have an agenda (and stick to it) and keep the session to an hour or so. 

family gathering at festive table
Photo by Askar Abayev on

Once the family is assembled, in a comfortable, private, space…then what? How do you start the conversation? A good way to start is to discuss your own plan.  Discuss with your parents what your estate planning experience was like. Talk about what your estate plan contemplates. A good plan not only contemplates death, but also life and aging and incapacity. Focus on helping your parents maintain independence. Discuss long term care:  have they considered what would happen if they had to spend time in a nursing home? Nursing home costs can quickly eliminate your parent’s life savings. Is there a plan in place that contemplates nursing home care?

Ask about what type of estate plan they have in place. Make sure the plan fits their estate. Explore whether their estate plan contemplates tax issues, probate costs, or beneficiaries with disabilities? If they have documents- look through them- are the right people named in the documents? Do they need to be updated? What would happen if you needed these documents to work today?

family gathering for a group hug
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Do not neglect to focus on lifetime planning. Make sure your parents have updated Powers of Attorney, Healthcare Directives and Living Wills. Remember, most parents want to discuss their estate plan with their adult children. Finding out that your parents have planned their estate will be very comforting. Finding out your parents have not made a plan is a great opportunity to help them get their affairs in order.  

If you‘d like to come in and talk about updating your existing plan or making a new one, I offer a free initial consultation. Appointments can be in person or via zoom. Give me a call at 203-500-0201 to schedule an appointment or email me at