PLANNING FOR DEATH AND SICKNESS
As the old saying goes, only two things in life are certain: death and taxes. We can't help you avoid either one, but there are steps you can take to ease the emotional and financial burdens placed on you and your loved ones by terminal illness or death.
The State Bar of Wisconsin puts out a publication called A Gift to Your Family. It contains a full discussion of the options available under Wisconsin law for health planning, and is well worth reading. You can download it here.
Living Will (Declaration to Physicians) This is a short document which is used to let doctors know what you want them to do for you (or, not to do for you) if you become terminally ill and unable to express a preference. We suggest that instead of a Living Will you execute a Health Care Power of Attorney.
Health Care Power of Attorney You should designate someone to make health care decisions for you, if illness or injury renders you unable to make such decisions for yourself. This is done by means of a signed and witnessed document called a Health Care Power of Attorney. Before we prepare one for you, we will ask you to make several choices: who do you want to make health care decisions for you if you become "incompetent"? who should decide if you are "incompetent"? how much authority do you want to give your "agent" (for instance, in terminating life support systems, placing you in long term care, allowing tube feeding)? These are some examples of the choices you should consider. Dr. Mary Frantz of Monroe, WI, has written an excellent discussion of an agent's responsibilities: read it here. Inspecting Health Care Records Federal law protects the privacy of your health care records. If you want someone else to have full access to your records, you should name an agent for that purpose. Go here for a form you can download to designate someone as your agent for inspecting your health care records. (You'll need Adobe Acrobat, or a similar .pdf reader, to read it.)
Financial Power of Attorney You can also designate someone to make financial decisions for you if you become incompetent. The document used for this purpose is called a "springing" Power of Attorney. You alone have the power to decide when it should take effect, and you retain the power to revoke or cancel it.
Wills and Trusts You should decide what will happen to your financial assets when you die. Many kinds of assets can be transferred without a will -- for instance, insurance will go to named beneficiaries, and real estate and bank accounts held jointly with another person will go to that person. Nonetheless, you should probably have a valid and up-to-date will, especially if you have young children. In a will, you can name a guardian for children, and set up a family trust to look after children's financial needs. Trusts are flexible: you can authorize the trustee (the person administering the trust) to consider the special needs of different children, and you can decide when the children should be given control of assets placed in trust for them. If you are interested in executing a will, email us and ask us to send you a questionnaire (at no charge to you) to fill out and submit to us so that we can give you a cost estimate.
Inheritance taxes Wisconsin does not have an inheritance tax. On the federal level, how much of your estate may be subject to inheritance tax -- the so-called "death tax" -- seemingly changes from year to year, depending on bargains between the President and Congress. If your estate is likely to be worth more than $5,120,000 (the January 2013 figure), congratulations, and contact us.
Revocable trusts: We do not generally recommend revocable trusts for Wisconsin residents of ordinary means. To make them effective, you must formally transfer your assets into the name of the trust. This is often cumbersome and expensive. You may have seen advertisements promoting these trusts as a means of avoiding probate. We do not think that this is advantageous in Wisconsin. In this state, probate is reasonably fast and inexpensive, and for most people probate can be simplified by holding assets jointly.
Nursing home admission: eligibility for Medicaid Depending on your age and your state of health, you should think about what will happen to your property if you are admitted to a nursing home for long-term care. With some exceptions, Medicaid will not pay for a long-term nursing home stay if you have assets worth more than $3,500. Your own assets over that amount must first be used to pay nursing home bills. With careful advance planning, however, you can protect your assets.
Contact us (information at top of this page) if you have questions about planning for sickness and death. We will respond promptly and will let you know what our services are likely to cost.
READ THIS IMPORTANT INFORMATION
You should not rely on anything you read this webpage or on any other webpage maintained by Briggs Law Office as being legal advice. If you want legal advice, contact us for a consultation. If after that you agree to hire us, you and we will sign a contract to define what we will do to represent or counsel you and what fee arrangement there will be between you and Briggs Law Office. Until a contract is signed we are not your lawyers. We;d like to hear from you, but we can't represent you until we know that doing so won't create a conflict of interest. Accordingly, don't send us email that includes information that is secret, confidential or privileged until you've spoken to one of our lawyers and you've received authorization to send such information. The internet is not necessarily a secure environmeng and it's possible your email might be intercepted and read by someone who shouldn't see it.