Laws of Eve | Preparing for life's biggest 'What if . . .?'
When we reflect on the senseless loss of innocent lives in Las Vegas, Nevada, on October 1, 2017, we are forced to accept that, even as we embrace and celebrate life, the reality of an untimely death is ever-present. With that said, if you knew the end was near, what preparation would you make?
For each person, the priorities may differ for many reasons, including whether you are married or single, wealthy or poor, or have children or not. However, there are some common questions to ask:
- Who is to get my property?
- What should happen to my remains?
- If I do not die immediately, what care should I receive?
Although many persons can answer the questions on their own, it is always helpful and best to consult a competent lawyer who can answer all three questions, provide proper advice, and prepare the necessary documents to ensure that your wishes are carried out.
Having a properly drafted last will and testament is the most basic form of estate planning. It allows you to appoint trusted persons to carry out your wishes (executors), enables you to name suitable persons to care for your children (guardians), and leave your property to the persons of your choice (beneficiaries).
PITFALLS TO AVOID
There are certain pitfalls to avoid, such as the risk of making a gift void by having a beneficiary or his or her spouse witness the signing of the will. Also, it is important to make adequate provision to settle your debts, including funeral expenses, and minimise estate duties by keeping some things out of your estate. For example, name the beneficiaries on your life insurance policies, rather than leaving it to your estate, and add the name of an intended beneficiary to a bank account.
Many of us are quite specific about whether we want to be buried or cremated. In fact, some persons are keen on planning all details of their memorial service. If you fall into any of those categories, you should consider stating that wish in your last will and testament. Of course, the problem is that most wills are not read before a loved one's memorial service has been held. Obviously, by then, it might be impossible to abide by some of the wishes in that will.
To avoid such an outcome, you would be well advised to make your preferences known to the person who is likely to be in charge of your remains. Questions about whether you wish to donate your organs should also be considered.
POWER OF ATTORNEY
Some persons may live long past the date that they are expected to die. For example, you might be rendered unconscious, placed on life support, become paralysed or mentally impaired. A power of attorney to enable someone you trust to undertake certain activities on your behalf might be the solution, in some cases. However, if you become mentally impaired, a power of attorney is unlikely to provide assistance to your loved ones, who might be forced to appoint a legal guardian under the Mental Health Act to mange your affairs.
An advance directive, enduring power of attorney or living will could help your loved ones and physicians decide whether to attempt to resuscitate or administer certain treatment if you become ill. This may become a critical issue, as there are many persons who would prefer to die rather than remain on life support or suffer the potentially debilitating effects of attempts to resuscitate them. It would be important to have a discussion with your doctor to ascertain what types of medical treatments you would not wish to undergo so that they could be stated in a living will.
These tips are by no means exhaustive, but they will at least help you to evaluate your situation and try to organise your affairs and avoid unintended consequences of an untimely death.