No one wants to think about their own incapacitation or death, but if the Covid-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that a devastating diagnosis can come at any time. Who could have predicted that a deadly virus would spread like wildfire and that thousands of people would end up on ventilators in hospitals within just a few months? Far too many of those people—particularly the elderly and working class—had no legal documents in place to express their wishes, pay their bills, or provide instructions for the inheritance of their possessions.
Attorney Traci Scudder is among the millions of Americans who were personally affected by the pandemic, and that has led her to offer estate planning services to ordinary families. When her aunt was hospitalized with Covid, the family discovered that she did not have legal documents to allow them to take care of her and her finances while she was ill. When she sadly passed away, there was no will to guide them through the estate administration process. This situation is not uncommon in Maryland, but it’s easy to fix with a phone call to Scudder Legal.
What an Estate Plan Can Do for You and Your Family
The term estate plan refers to the set of legal documents that take care of you and your assets if you become unable to do so, either through incapacitation or death. The very wealthy among us often have complex estate plans consisting of a variety of trusts, professional fiduciaries, offshore accounts, and tax shelters, but an estate plan can be as basic as a simple will and powers of attorney. At Scudder Legal, we are focused on basic planning that helps elderly couples and middle-class families.
What a Simple Maryland Estate Plan Can Accomplish
- Make healthcare decisions on your behalf. By naming an agent in a healthcare power of attorney, you ensure that you will have a voice if you are unconscious, on a ventilator, suffering from dementia, or otherwise unable to express your wishes. The document can provide guidance to your agent by specifying the types of medical procedures you would want, what life-saving efforts you want to be made on your behalf, and your end-of-life wishes. This is a simple document to fill out and sign.
- Pay your bills and manage your finances when you can’t. A financial power of attorney gives your agent access to your bank account, checkbook, billing statements, and any other financial matters you specify. Your agent can only take control of your finances when you have been declared incapacitated, so there is no worry that someone could take your money or make financial decisions against your wishes.
- Name guardians for your children in case you die unexpectedly. If you do not name a guardian for your minor children, the court will decide who gets them when you are unable to care for them, which usually means the closest family member who is willing to take them. If you have young children, you can appoint any guardian you choose for them in your will, and the court is obliged to honor your wishes.
- Make your wishes for your assets and property known. In your will, you can designate who you would like to inherit specific assets, such as money, your home, your car, and items such as pieces of jewelry or furniture. This is your chance to make sure the people you love—whether they are blood relations or not—get what you want them to have. Without a will, the state will decide who gets what by following a strict next-of-kin process.
- Designate a trusted person to take care of your affairs. You will also name an executor in your will. This person will be responsible for notifying heirs, taking inventory of your belongings, and executing all of the terms of your will. This can be a trusted friend or relative, or it can be your lawyer.
- Keep irresponsible family members from getting ahold of your assets. Even if you don’t have a lot to leave behind, you might want to make sure certain family members are excluded from inheriting. If you haven’t talked to your only child in ten years, but your niece has been a caregiver and friend to you, you can leave assets to her and not your son. Without a will, your son would likely inherit everything.
- Select an attorney to administrate the plan. The lawyer you work with to create your estate plan will have copies of all of the documents and will be able to set the plan in motion when it becomes necessary. When your attorney is compassionate, responsive, and committed to ensuring that your wishes are honored, you can live with the peace of mind that comes with having all of your ducks in a row.
In other words, you get a lot of bang for your buck when you sit down and write a comprehensive estate plan!
How the Estate Planning Process Works
The hardest part of creating an estate plan is making the important decisions about who will represent your interests when you are unable to, who will inherit the money you have worked your whole life to save and the meaningful objects you treasure, and who will raise your children if you can’t. When you work with Scudder Legal to write a will and execute other documents, we will ask you to think about these decisions before you come in to draft documents. We also recommend that you talk to the people in your life who will be impacted by your incapacitation or death. You want to be sure that the people you choose as executors, power of attorney agents, and guardians are willing to take on the job if it becomes necessary. After those difficult decisions and conversations happen, the rest of the process is pretty easy.
When you die, your estate will have to go through probate court to validate the will, confirm the heirs, and distribute property. Scudder Legal can also be there for your family members to help with that process.
Contact Scudder Legal to Talk About Estate Planning
Accepting your own mortality and making important decisions about what should happen after you are gone are not easy steps to take. Scudder Legal understands how important it is for every person—regardless of heirs or assets—to have a will and powers of attorney, and we are committed to giving families peace of mind while making the estate planning process as painless as possible. Fill out our online contact form or call us at 240-273-3294 to get started right away.