When it comes to my truck that I drive to work every day, I know that I need a reliable transmission, working engine and a fully functional electrical system. Those main vehicle systems need to be regularly evaluated. Sometimes, I can do that work myself, and sometimes I hire my mechanic to proactively identify and resolve potential problems.
Similarly, there are several main aspects of life that should be evaluated to ensure that each of us have all systems (or aspects) of our legal existence in “working condition.”
For most of us, there are four goals (or systems) for our legal existences that we should consider servicing regularly. We may not be qualified to address those goals, but our attorneys (like our mechanics) can review, advise of improvements and implement those improvements.
First, have I expressed my wishes as to whom I would recommend being a guardian over my minor children if I died or became incapacitated? This recommendation can be made in a will, if the recommendation is for guardianship after death. However, wills are not applicable unless and until a person dies. Therefore, parents should also consider making guardianship recommendations in a general power of attorney, which would apply if/while a parent is incapacitated (due to illness or accident) but did not pass away.
Second, do I have any liability that I am not effectively addressing? “Legal minimums” when it comes to insurance are almost always insufficient when it comes to life, particularly in our region. We drive a lot, and we own or manage our own businesses and farms. These aspects of life introduce significant risks. Updating insurance coverage and considering entities and trusts to provide layers of liability protection is always an appropriate and responsible endeavor to regularly undertake.
Third, are my affairs sufficiently in order to make life easy for my family and friends if I become incapacitated? A single car accident, stroke or other medical emergency can change our lives instantaneously and eliminate our ability to handle our own affairs. Effective powers of attorney for healthcare and financial matters should couple with a living will to apply when incapacity happens.
If we are unprepared for the possible loss of our ability to make our own decisions, we can stick our loved ones with the duty to become our guardians, which includes hours of required classes, court hearings and regular, detailed accounting reports submitted to the probate court — creating burdensome responsibilities for others while we are still alive.
Fourth, are my affairs sufficiently in order to make the transfer of assets upon my death simple and inexpensive? Anyone who has previously been responsible for administering a loved one’s estate will be the first person to recommend that we each create a detailed inventory of everything we own and work to ensure that our exact wishes (or at least preferences) be laid out in properly enforceable documentation long before we die.
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.