As 2020 draws to a merciful close, the season of giving that typically rounds out the year promises to be different. The festive gatherings we usually enjoy will be muted, if they happen at all. Video calls may substitute for the physical embrace of family and friends. And the exchange of gifts we all look forward to will likely take place through the likes of UPS rather than in person.
With so much less to plan for this year, many people are busying themselves by tackling overdue tasks. Homes are being spruced up, important papers are being organized, and missing socks are being paired with their long-lost partners.
What makes this year different, of course, is the global health emergency that makes the one thing we treasure most—human contact—unadvisable. It also makes us mindful of our own fragility and how much we value the time we have with the people closest to us.
One way to make use of this period of reflection is to plan for the unexpected in our own lives. What would happen if something happened to you? Would someone you trust be allowed to take care of you and manage your health care?
With an advance medical directive, you can put the right person in charge in case you ever become unable to speak for yourself. This person could then work with your doctors to help ensure that your care is appropriate and in keeping with your wishes.
An advance directive also enables you to make choices for serious, end-of-life situations such as a terminal illness. Would you simply want to kept comfortable or would you prefer to have more aggressive measures taken? These are tough questions to consider. But wresting with them in advance, before the need arises, will make life easier for the people who care about you.
What about your finances? If you should ever become incapacitated, someone would need to pay your bills, file your taxes, and possibly even sell your home. A power of attorney will authorize a trusted friend or family member to take on this role.
If you have no power of attorney, it could be necessary for someone to become your legal guardianship. This is an expensive and time-consuming process, and it involves a court hearing. At just a few pages, a power of attorney can prevent the need for a guardianship and save your loved ones a lot of stress.
It is also important to plan for what happens if worst comes to worst. Upon your death, who would settle your estate? Who would inherit your assets? If you have minor children, who would their guardians be? Should they receive their inheritance through a trust or outright?
The best way to sort through these questions is to speak with an attorney who can guide you through the planning process. In addition to helping you explore your options, the attorney can draft a will and other essential documents.
A complete estate plan will also address things like updating the beneficiaries on retirement accounts and life insurance policies. It will help ensure that your “digital assets,” like online accounts, frequent flyer miles, and credit card award points, are included in your estate. And it will give you an opportunity to plan a meaningful memorial service that reflects your wishes and beliefs.
The effort that goes into creating an estate plan can be considered a gift. It is first of all a gift to yourself. With your plan complete, you can enjoy the peace of mind that comes from knowing that, as much as possible, you are ready for what lies ahead.
An estate plan is also a gift to the people you love. With a minimum of stress, it will enable them to care for you if you can’t care for yourself. It will also save them time, money, and worry when you are no longer in the picture.
Whether you have a spouse or partner, children, or just dear friends, consider preparing an estate plan as a gift to them. As Booker T. Washington said, “Those who are happiest are those who do the most for others.”
Lee Carpenter is a partner at the Baltimore law firm of Niles, Barton & Wilmer and an adjunct professor at the University of Maryland Carey School of Law. He can be reached at 410-783-6349 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Learn more about LGBT estate planning at mdlgbtestateplanning.com.
This article is intended to provide general information, not specific legal advice.