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Estate plan checkup for 2012: guardianships and power of attorney

Estate planning can sometimes require us to consider unpleasant but nonetheless probable aspects of our future. Many Washington residents no doubt procrastinate in deciding on matters of guardianship or powers of attorney. Plus, there may be a bit of a selfish strain running through much of our procrastination, since the ones who most benefit from a solid estate plan will do so after we're gone. But these are important issues to consider, and the basic goal of all estate planning is to provide for one's own needs, as well as for the needs of loved ones. To achieve this double outcome, estate planners in Seattle and the surrounding areas will want to give their estate plan a 2012 checkup.

One difficult aspect of estate planning is imagining oneself as incapacitated and thus unable to handle one's own assets. An incapacitated individual may not even know what assets he or she has, much less what to do with them. That is why a solid estate plan should designate a trusted individual to act in your place with regard to legal and money matters should you become incapacitated. To designate such a person, you need to establish a power of attorney. A power of attorney is not the same as a living will, which is usually limited to wishes regarding end-of-life care. A power of attorney is also different from a healthcare power of attorney, which involves your deciding who will make medical decisions for you when you are unable to. Choosing the right person for each of these roles is something anyone should do to ensure the best possible estate plan.

Another perhaps unpleasant but necessary consideration involves deciding upon guardians for children who are minors or who have special needs. It's a sad thought: not being there to care for a vulnerable loved one. But no-one wants his or her child to be orphaned or taken into the care of the state because an estate plan fails to address issues of guardianship. Too often, when single or surviving parents don't clarify their wishes in a will, a court determines what will happen to children or vulnerable adults who are left behind. Many people assume that a verbal agreement with a friend or family member ensures that children will be cared for in the event a parent dies, but that assumption all-too-often proves to be just that -- an assumption. That is why a solid estate plan takes care to designate a proper guardianship, in addition to providing future financial support for children and other loved ones.

Source: Forbes, "Make a New Year's Resolution To Give Your Estate Plan a Checkup," Deborah L. Jacobs, Jan. 4, 2012

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