One of my favorite shows to watch when I was a kid was Sanford and Son. I remember racing to the television to turn on TV Land just to catch a glimpse of Fred, played by the incomparable Redd Foxx, mix it up with the other characters on the show. What always got a hearty chuckle out of me was on the occasions where Fred was faced with some situation that wasn’t going his way or he was looking for an easy out of a tough scenario. He’d throw one hand over his heart, the other hand to the sky, look up to the heavens proclaiming to his deceased wife, Elizabeth that this was the “Big One” and “I’m coming to join you!” These heart attacks always seemed to come suddenly and without warning, although as a faithful watcher of the show I knew that somehow, Fred would make it through this scare unscathed. But what if he didn’t make it? What if he became incapacitated, unable to make decisions on his own behalf? Of course as a child, these thoughts never crossed my mind, but as an estate planning attorney…I would tell Fred there were three estate planning documents he should have in place before he went to the “other side”.
First, a will should be a top priority in any estate plan. Far too often, people overlook the importance of having a will. A will provides the testator, or the person creating the will, to state who gets their property and assets upon their death. Where an individual dies intestate, or without a will, the laws of the Commonwealth of Virginia will determine who gets the estate property. I’m certain Fred, would want to determine who was going to get his elaborate estate (i.e., his junkyard), and establishing a will would help him with that process.
Secondly, a durable financial power of attorney is another document to be included in an estate plan. Choosing an individual or a company to make financial decisions on your behalf if you were to become incapacitated is essential so that you can be assured that the person or persons making these calls are doing so in an appropriate manner.
Last but not least, an advance medical directive is as important of a document to include in an estate plan as any. Nothing is worse than having family members or loved ones bickering about what should become of an individual who becomes incapable of expressing his or her wishes about medical decisions to be made on their behalf. An advance medical directive lets it be known prior to the incapacity of a party what their desires are. And, you best believe that Fred better have this in place, otherwise Aunt Esther may pull the plug on him prematurely!
Sanford and Son still holds a special place in my heart, always good for a big laugh. Before you experience the “Big One” however, make sure a will, a durable power of attorney, and an advance medical directive are a part of your estate plan.
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