Estate Plans: Do I Need One?

Monday, April 8, 2013 | 12:01 am

So often people tell me “I don’t have enough money to need an estate plan,” or “my estate is really simple, so there is no need for any complicated planning.” If you look at most of the media that talks about estate planning, you would be inclined to believe that these assertions are true. But if you think that an estate plan is only for those with estates and heirs to transfer it to, you are wrong.

Rich or poor, single or married, kids or no kids, an estate plan is important for everyone. It’s fairly well understood that when we are married or have kids we need a plan. It’s also fairly obvious that if we are blessed enough to have built up a sizable estate, we also need to have some type of coordinated plan to pass it to the next generation without giving most of it to Uncle Sam. What is not so obvious are the other benefits of an estate plan that can help us well before we are ready to leave this earth. To illustrate, let’s talk about Tom.

Tom. A single man in his forties. Never married. No children. Parents deceased. No siblings. Has a passion for preserving the local parks he enjoys walking through with his canine companion. A few close friends and a modest estate.

While hiking with his dog, Tom slips and falls down a ravine. He sustains traumatic head injuries and is transported to a local hospital, where he is placed into a medically induced coma. His doctors aren’t sure how long he will need to remain in this coma but believe he can recover.

If we were in Tom’s position, what would we worry about?

1 Who is making decisions about my medical care and treatment?
2 Who is going to pay my rent, make my car payment, or take care of my dog?
3 What is going to happen to all of my assets if I don’t recover?

An estate plan can help Tom with all of these issues. An Advanced Health Care Directive nominates a person to make medical decisions for us when we lack the capacity to make those decisions for ourselves. It can also expresses our preferences when it comes to our end of life preferences, whether we want to be an organ donor or not, and if we want to be buried or cremated. So even if Tom’s nominated agent isn’t completely sure what Tom wants, the agent would have guidance.

A durable power of attorney for financial management would help ease Tom’s fears about who would secure and manage his assets while he was unable to do this for himself. This document would allow Tom to nominate an attorney who could make financial decisions, such as paying bills, collecting income, and taking care of Tom’s dog. It would also give Tom’s attorney the power to sell assets if Tom needed money to pay for the care and treatment of his injuries.

Finally, a Will or Trust would give Tom some peace of mind as to what would happen to his assets should he not recover. Tom can nominate a friend, or even nominate a private professional fiduciary, such as an accountant, to wind up his affairs after death and distribute his property. Tom could make a generous gift to a local animal rescue to pay for his dog’s board and care until it was placed with a new companion. Perhaps Tom would make a gift to a local organization dedicated to preserving the land in which he hiked.

This scenario is not far-fetched. We hear these kinds of stories on the news all the time. With an estate plan, you are taking away the uncertainty of what happens next, both during life and in death. More importantly, you are doing so in a manner that is consistent with what you want, not what someone else dictates is right for you. An estate planning attorney can guide you through a tailored estate plan specific to your needs. My next article will provide a checklist of what you need to prepare an estate plan.

You may contact Heidi Bitterman at the Law Offices of Donald P. Schweitzer, 201 So. Lake Ave. in Pasadena. For further information call (626) 683-8113 or visit




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