Many people recognize the importance of taking the time to put together an estate plan but are not certain what this entails. The 5 questions which follow can serve as a starting point for those who are ready to begin the process but are unsure where to begin. These questions may also be useful for those considering whether their current estate plan needs to be updated.
- Who will manage your property when you are unable to do so on your own?
This question relates to your Power of Attorney for Property, a document that forms an important part of a complete estate plan as it sets out who can act on your behalf when you are incapable of managing your own property. This person is called your attorney for property (and no, this person does not need to be a lawyer). You may choose to name more than one person to act together or separately in this role.
It is important to note that unless you provide restrictions within the document, your Power of Attorney for Property gives your attorney for property the power to do anything you can do with your property except to make or change your Will. This document is often effective from the moment it is signed.
It is also noteworthy that this Power of Attorney dies with you – your estate trustee then takes over.
- Who do you want making personal care and treatment decisions for you when you are incapable of doing so on your own?
A Power of Attorney for Personal Care sets out instructions for when you are incapable of making your own care decisions. Your attorney(s) for personal care is/are the person or people you choose to make these decisions for you. Your attorney(s) for personal care need not be, but can be, the same as your attorney(s) for property.
- What are your preferences regarding treatment decisions or personal care decisions?
In your Power of Attorney for Personal Care, you can indicate whether it is your preference to stay in your home for as long as possible should you fall ill, regardless of your financial circumstances. You can also indicate how treatment decisions should be made if you become terminally ill. Please note that as long as you are competent you can make your own decisions. Even if you can’t talk you can nod or blink or squeeze a hand.
- Who will be responsible for administering your estate after your death?
The person who administers your estate is called your estate trustee (or executor). Your Will is effective on your death. This person may, but is not required to be, the same person(s) named as your attorney for property or personal care. This role, like the roles of attorney for property and attorney for personal care, comes with a lot of responsibility and must be filled by someone you trust. Your estate trustee should be someone with integrity who is aware of the limits of their own knowledge, who will know when to ask for help.
- How do you want your estate administered?
Your estate will be administered in accordance with the terms of your Will(s). Consider who will be the beneficiaries of your estate, and whether you will be making specific gifts of personal property or cash bequests. Take into consideration whether you have dependants or beneficiaries with special needs.
Once you have the opportunity to think through these questions (or maybe even before if you would like some additional guidance) it is wise to contact a lawyer with expertise in estate planning to assist you in preparing or updating the documents mentioned above. This professional will be able to work with you to prepare your Will(s), Power of Attorney for Property and Power of Attorney for Personal Care, taking into consideration your personal wishes and circumstances and making sure the documents meet formal legal requirements.