The Thanksgiving weekend starting later this week will introduce Americans to their biggest annual shopping season. Deciding upon gifts for loved ones can be tricky, but there is one gift that has unquestioned financial and emotional value.
Social media recently included a popular story of a mother battling cancer who left a letter of love and encouragement to her daughter. The daughter did not receive or read the letter until after the mother’s death. In light of the circumstances, the letter’s value to the daughter was obviously greater than any gift her mother could have purchased for the daughter.
Interestingly, although perhaps not necessarily as dramatic, each of us in Ohio can provide a very similar gift after we pass away. When someone completes his or her estate plan, that person is providing a very thoughtful and emotional gift for surviving family and friends.
Not only can preparing estate planning constitute a beautiful gift to family and friends after someone dies, completing an estate plan usually also saves money for the surviving family and friends. For instance, preparing assets to avoid probate (a part of much estate planning) is almost always less costly than surviving family and friends having to administer a complex estate through probate.
Of course, there is no requirement that a person’s estate plan be kept confidential, and I often encourage clients to share their estate plans with loved ones in advance. However, when the plans are not shared in advance (intentionally or not), surviving family and friends can be even more deeply touched by the depth of thought and love expressed in well-written estate planning documents.
Practically speaking, there are four estate planning related documents any person should consider and can prepare as a gift to surviving family and friends. I recommend preparing a Last Will and Testament, a power of attorney for finances, a power of attorney for healthcare and a living will. Notably, a living will is not a DNR. Instead, a living will is a set of instructions to your doctor if you are permanently unconscious.
It is generally understood that the best estate plans are prepared by local attorneys. People who prepare their own estate planning documents or simply use documents downloaded from the internet can sometimes actually make their post-death estate administration more difficult for family and friends.
As we know, estate planning for yourself is a great gift to other people. However, pre-paying someone else’s legal fees to have estate planning documents prepared can sometimes present ethical issues for attorneys. As a result, for my clients who want to pay for other family or friends’ estate plans, I usually recommend that my clients simply give money with a note expressing the giver’s desire that that money be used to prepare estate plans.
You might consider scheduling a conference with an attorney to prepare your estate plan, which planning helps you and others. A person who prepares his or her estate plan in this context provides a financial investment as well as a tangible expression of love and affection.
Lee R. Schroeder is an Ohio licensed attorney at Schroeder Law LLC in Putnam County. He limits his practice to business, real estate, estate planning and agriculture issues in northwest Ohio. He can be reached at Lee@LeeSchroeder.com or at 419-659-2058. This article is not intended to serve as legal advice, and specific advice should be sought from the licensed attorney of your choice based upon the specific facts and circumstances that you face.