By James D. Beatty
Many clients we meet with within Des Moines, West Des Moines, Urbandale, Johnston, Ankeny, Altoona, Carlisle and Norwalk, have an incorrect belief that their Will determines who will inherit all of their assets. Many assets do not pass under a person’s Will. For example, life insurance policies and retirement accounts are typically paid on death to the persons named on the various beneficiary designations on file with the companies. Also, accounts titled as “transfer on death” or “payable on death” will also pass on death to the beneficiaries named on the accounts. Finally, assets which are held in joint tenancy with rights of survivorship pass on death automatically to the surviving joint tenants.
As such, the first step in estate planning is for a client to complete the Estate Planning Questionnaire which is set out on our website (click here). It is vital that a client takes the time to accurately set out the assets owned and how the assets are titled. We will work with you to make sure your wishes for the disposition of your assets are accomplished regarding assets which pass under your Will and regarding assets which pass outside of your Will.
Special attention is needed for beneficiary designations to make sure that your wishes are met. For example, in the event that one of your children predeceases you, most insurance policies and retirement accounts will pay the proceeds to the surviving children. Most clients in such event, would prefer that the share for the deceased child be paid to the children of said deceased child as opposed to being paid to their other surviving children.
We will also discuss the preparation of a Financial Power of Attorney, a Health Power of Attorney and a Living Will. Typically, the Financial Power of Attorney becomes effective when a client’s physician certifies that the client is unable to handle his or her affairs. At such point, the person or persons named in the document will step in to handle your financial affairs. If you do not have a Financial Power of Attorney, in the event you become incapacitated, it will be necessary to file a conservatorship case with the court system and have a person or bank appointed as your conservator. The cost of a conservatorship is substantially higher than the cost of drafting a Financial Power of Attorney.
A Health Power of Attorney is a document that allows you to name another person or persons to make health care decisions for you in the event that your physician certifies that you are unable to make such decisions. If you do not have a Health Power of Attorney, it will be necessary to open a guardianship case with the court system and have a person appointed as your guardian to make all decisions regarding your care and living arrangements. The cost of a guardianship is substantially higher than the cost of drafting a Health Power of Attorney.
Finally, a Living Will is a document whereby you direct your physician to withhold life sustaining procedures in the event you have an incurable or irreversible condition that will result either in death within a relatively short period of time or a state of permanent unconsciousness from which to a reasonable degree of medical certainty there can be no recovery. If you do not have a Living Will, your family members will need to agree as to what steps will be taken. The Living Will takes the decision out of your family members’ hands and allows you to die according to your wishes.
Our office specializes in estate planning and we have the extensive experience and skills to insure that your wishes regarding your care and the disposition of your assets on your death will be handled according to your wishes.