Statistics show that over 120 million people in the United States have a chronic illness such as Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease or multiple sclerosis. For Americans in this class of people, it is more important than ever to have an estate plan in place that is customized for the particular illness.
Those who do not have an estate plan are not alone. It is estimated that only 35 percent of Americans have a will and even fewer have a trust. Within these dismal statistics lies an opportunity for those suffering from a chronic disease to improve their lives, and the lives of their families, by having an estate plan.
Elements of an Effective Estate Plan
Before starting your estate plan, it is important to gather together contact and emergency information about your family, caregivers and others you want involved in carrying out your wishes. Once you have done that, contact an estate planning attorney to assist you in drafting the following documents:
- Power of attorney: allows you to specify a person to handle your financial and legal issues.
- Health care proxy: designates someone to assist in your medical treatment. The person you designate can make health care decisions on your behalf and access your medical records.
- Living will: allows you to specify your health care wishes
- Will: allows you to specify how and to whom your property is to be distributed
- Revocable living trust: can manage your assets in the event that illness makes you unable to.
Estate planning may seem unfamiliar, intimidating or perhaps morbid. However, an estate plan that fits your specific needs can minimize taxes and the emotional hardship to your loved ones.
Source: "Declining Health Is Scary: Estate And Financial Planning Can Protect You", Forbes, 10/17/11