It's one of the more difficult calls we receive, but somewhat frequently, the caller on the other end tells us something like this: “I've been diagnosed with X, and the doctor said I should get my affairs in order. Can you help with that?”
What does it mean to get my affairs in order?
When a doctor advises someone to get their affairs in order, it typically means that the person's health condition is serious, and the doctor believes that they may not have much time left to live. The phrase “affairs in order” refers generally to the process of organizing one's personal and financial matters, such as creating a will, identifying an executor or trustee, and arranging for end-of-life care, including management of healthcare and personal financial and business matters if necessary due to incapacity.
Getting one's affairs in order can also involve discussing end-of-life preferences with loved ones and key decision makers, confirming beneficiary designations are in place on retirement accounts, life insurance policies, and possibly other financial accounts, and making arrangements for funeral or memorial services.
While hearing this advice from a doctor can be difficult, it can also provide an opportunity for the individual to take control of their affairs and make decisions that will ensure their wishes are known and will be followed in the event of their incapacity or death. No one wants to make this type of call to a lawyer, and there's often lots of emotion, fear, and anxiety associated with it. Despite the situation, taking some time to ensure that your legal plans are made, and your financial assets are in order can alleviate some of that stress from client and their family.
What needs to be done?
If you live in Georgia and need to get your affairs in order, there are several steps you can take:
- Create a will. A will is a legal document that outlines how you want your assets to be distributed after you pass away, and who should be in charge of that process. If you have minor-aged children, the will also designates persons to be their guardian and trustee.
- Consider a trust. Depending on your assets and goals, a revocable living trust may be a useful tool to transfer your assets to your beneficiaries without going through the probate process. And, if you are expecting a lengthy period of incapacitation, a trust may be a preferred tool for someone to use to manage assets during such incapacity.
- Designate beneficiaries. Review the beneficiary designations on your retirement accounts such as 401(k)s, 403(b)s, IRAs, etc., as well as on life insurance policies. The beneficiary designations on those accounts, as well as any placed on traditional banking or non-retirement investment accounts, will control how those assets are distributed, and those assets will pass to your beneficiaries outside of your will or trust. It is important to coordinate how these beneficiaries are selected to ensure your wishes are consistent with your overall estate plan.
- Plan for possible incapacity with respect to your healthcare. If you become incapacitated and unable to make medical decisions for yourself, the Georgia Advance Directive for Healthcare lets you designate a person to serve as your healthcare agent and make those decisions for you. It also lets you set forth treatment preferences for certain common end-of-life scenarios.
- Plan for possible incapacity with respect to your money, property, and personal business affairs. Again, if you are incapacitated and cannot act for yourself, plans need to be in place allowing your trusted agent(s) to act for you, and to be able to manage your money, property, and personal business affairs. This may be done in part with a revocable living trust, and other issues can be managed through a Georgia durable power of attorney that complies with Georgia's Uniform Power of Attorney Act.
- Organize your documents. It is important to keep your important documents, such as your estate planning documents, insurance policies, information about bank and investment accounts, your creditors and financial obligations etc., organized and easily accessible to your key agents who may need the documents if you are incapacitated or pass away.
- Consult with professionals. Consider consulting with an attorney to ensure your legal matters are taken care of, as well as with your financial advisor or accountant to ensure your accounts are in order and answer any questions you have. Know that Georgia's laws regarding Wills and Trusts may be different from those in other states, so it makes sense to consult with a Georgia attorney if you are a Georgia resident.
The Experienced Estate Planning Attorneys at Peach State Wills & Trusts Can Help.
Whether you need an estate plan prepared due to a serious medical diagnosis, or just because you've otherwise decided that's the right thing for you, the experienced attorneys at Peach State Wills & Trusts can help. Contact us today to discuss your situation and see if we'd be a good fit to work together to get a plan in place to protect yourself and your loved ones.
If you have any questions about estate planning in Georgia, you can download our free guide here.
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