A well-executed estate plan is critical for everyone. A will or trust, and powers of attorney are the best way to ensure your wishes are honored after your death, and during any period of incapacity.
In past columns we have discussed the importance of estate planning for seniors. Here, we’ll look at these issues for the younger generation.
Planning for these events seems natural as we age and families grow. It is especially important for younger adults and for unmarried couples to develop or update a plan that accurately reflects their wishes. People without a plan in place face the very-real possibilities of passing their assets to someone for whom they never intended to provide, leaving someone out altogether, or having someone they do not trust (or even know!) make decisions on their behalf.
Once we turn 18, we have the right to make our own financial and medical decisions. While we might still rely on our parents’ advice and direction, the law does not give parents the power to make decisions for their adult child, even if the child is incapacitated. In a situation such as this, a parent would likely have to go to court to be appointed as their child’s guardian. Executing powers of attorney documents can prevent this. Powers of attorney designate someone (an “agent”) to act on your behalf should you become unable to do so. Anyone 18 years of age or older can, and should execute medical and financial powers of attorney, to avoid unnecessary delay, expense, and to ensure the decisions made on their behalf come from a trusted person.
Unmarried couples face similar risks. Without a document designating an agent, an unmarried partner is not treated the same as a spouse. In fact, the partner may be left out of any medical decision-making, entirely. Further, if an unmarried couple does not designate each other as beneficiaries of their assets, the property passes according to law at their death, rather than to each other. So, a loved one could be left out of their partner’s estate altogether. Therefore, planning for these events is crucial.
Editor’s Note: This article was submitted by Richard E. Romeo. Rick is a member of the Boulder County Bar Association, the Colorado Bar Association and National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. Rick Romeo is with Vincent, Romeo & Rodriguez, an established law firm with offices in Englewood and Louisville. He may be reached at (303) 604-6030 or by email at Rromeo@elderlawcolorado.com