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Smart Estate Planning: Four Documents Almost Every Person Needs

Elder law attorneys become very good at reading the faces of their new clients. They can tell which people are in planning mode and which ones are in crisis mode. Perhaps they’ve just been told that mom has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and no one has the power to make decisions for her. Or perhaps dad passed away suddenly and he was the sole caregiver for mom. Who is going to take care of the bills? Where will she live? Who’s going to care of dad if mom needs long-term care? Who can talk to the doctors?

Robert D. CorneliusRobert “Bob” Cornelius of Cornelius & Talley, PC provided insights into smart estate planning at a recent seminar at Fair Haven in Birmingham, AL. Bob is a strong advocate of pre-planning that can take some of the pressure off of your family during what is already sure to be a stressful life situation. By spending $250 to $2500 now to designate the various power of attorneys, make health care directives, and draw up a last will and testament, you can avoid the minimum of $5,000 or more that it takes to petition the courts for these powers. Without an estate plan you’re going to have to go court to take control, and that’s what costs money.

Bob advises people to put together an Estate Plan with four basic elements that almost every person needs.

#1  A Last Will and Testament

Someone who dies without a will in the state of Alabama is considered “intestate”. That means state law tells your family who gets what. Bob says that 80% of the time, state law is likely to distribute assets as the decedent would have wished, but for those who don’t want their final wishes determined by the state, it’s a good idea to set in writing what you want done with your earthly possessions.

#2  A Health Care Power of Attorney

This is the person that you designate to make decisions and act on your behalf if you become impaired or incapacitated, or for some other reason are unable to make a health care decision yourself.

#3  A Financial Power of Attorney

This person can be the same as your Health Care Power of Attorney, but it doesn’t have to be. This person is designated to act on your behalf in a financial capacity if you become unable to make those financial decisions yourself.

#4  Living Will with Advance Directives

These documents set forth your decisions about medical treatments and interventions that you would or would not like to be used that are designed to keep you alive. It also helps you establish your own values-based decisions, such as pain medication and organ donation. Making your own determinations in advance can help family members avoid disagreements about what your wishes might be.

Bob warns that occasionally the laws of estate planning do change, and he advises people to update their estate plans at least every five years, and sooner than that any time there is a major change in life, such as a divorce or the death of someone appointed as a representative. During the current national emergency,  Cornelius & Talley, PC  will be using video conferencing to meet with clients, and providing no-contact services.

For more information about life at Fair Haven, including details on our how to make Fair Haven your new home, contact Lifestyle Specialist Ardell Fleeson at 205-880-1942, or send an email to her at AFleeson@fairhavenbirmingham.org.


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