On a hot summer day, few things are more fun than swimming. Hannah Collins went swimming on such a day in the Edisto river near Charleston, South Carolina. She swam often and was nicknamed “river rat” by her father. But, while swimming one summer day, she became infected by an unseen danger, a rare amoeba, Naegleria fowleri, which is known as the “brain-eating amoeba.” Less than two weeks later, even after the best medical care, Hannah died. Here’s a link to more information.
Like Hannah, Caleb Schwab was seeking some innocent summer fun. He went to an amusement park in Kansas City, expecting a day of fun and thrills. The amusement park, Schlitterbahn, had recently opened the world’s tallest water slide, Verruckt, and he wanted to experience it. However, unbeknownst to Caleb, the water slide was improperly designed. When descending the 15-story drop, Caleb was decapitated by the ride. Here is a link to more information.
There are few certainties in life. One of the certainties is death. We all know we are going to die…at least we know this in theory. We don’t know when. We don’t know how. But we know that each of us will face death at some point. It is especially unexpected when we are anticipating a fun-filled day, like Hannah or Caleb.
Since none of us knows when tragedy might strike, it’s best to have a plan in place, in case the unexpected happens. A basic plan includes:
- A Will. A Will disposes of your property at your death through a court process called “probate.” Without a Will, your assets are divvied up among your blood relatives as determined by your state legislature. With a Will, you can alter this distribution and provide protections for your loved ones from their creditors, divorce, or even their own mismanagement. This document is the place you nominate guardians for your minor children. But, a Will only is effective at death and requires the court process, which may be more or less cumbersome depending on your state and the nature and extent of assets involved.
- A Property Power of Attorney. A Property Power of Attorney allows you to designate someone to act for you regarding your property during your life. It allows someone to manage assets in your individual name when you are unable to make the decisions yourself.
- A Healthcare Power of Attorney. This power designates an agent to make healthcare decisions for you when you are unable to make them for yourself.
- A Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Authorization. This authorization designates who can access your protected health information. Without such a document, a hospital or other provider might not be able to tell your loved ones any information about your care, or even that you are in their care.
- A Revocable Living Trust. A trust holds title to property during lifetime. At your death or incapacity, your successor trustee manages the assets according to your instructions in the trust. Since the trust continues at your death, no probate process is required. Depending upon the state, this may save significant time and money and provide privacy which may be lost with probate. The trust may provide all the protections which a Will could provide, including protection from the beneficiary’s divorce, creditors, and mismanagement.
Prepare at least a basic plan. That way, regardless of what dangers lurk around the corner, whether expected or unexpected, you’ll be prepared.
Stephen C. Hartnett, J.D., LL.M.
Director of Education
American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys, Inc.
9444 Balboa Avenue, Suite 300
San Diego, California 92123
Phone: (858) 453-2128
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