Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Basic Stages of Life

There are three basic stages of life when contemplating estate planning.

  1. Individual is alive and mentally competent

  2. Individual is alive and mentally incapacitated

  3. Individual has died
Each of these stages is handled differently.

Individual is alive and mentally competent
When an individual is alive and mentally competent, estate planning documents can be in place, but most likely the documents are sleeping (or not being used) during this stage of life.

Individual is alive and mentally incapacitated
When an individual is alive but mentally incapacitated, there are certain estate documents that if prepared ahead of time allow family members to step in and begin acting on behalf of the incapacitated individual. The kind of documents that might be prepared for this stage of life are:

  • health care power of attorney

  • medical directive (pull-the-plug)

  • health care directive

  • financial power of attorney

  • do not resuscitate (In Utah, an individual can only obtain a DNR by contacting a physician and filling out the DNR with the physician.)
If these documents are not in place before an individual becomes incapacitated, family members will go to court to obtain conservatorship or guardianship appointment in order to act for an incapacitated person.

Individual has died
When an individual has died, any powers of attorney used during incapacity becomes void and family members must turn to any will or trust that has been established to deal with this stage. If an individual has prepared a trust and/or will, family members can begin the process of accessing assets, paying bills, and distributing assets to the beneficiaries of the deceased person. If the person dies without estate documents in place, most likely the family members will need to go through probate to obtain authority to access and distribute any property of the deceased person.

In contemplating estate planning, it is important to be aware of the three stages of life and prepare for each stage.

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