A common question I get from people who aren't yet clients but who are going to soon be having a major surgery is:
Should I Update My Estate Plan Before My Surgery?
As an estate planning attorney, my advice will always be that it's a good idea to make sure your estate plan documents are up to date. You don't need to wait for major life events to come along. You review your financial accounts with your financial advisor each year. There's no reason you can't also take a few minutes each year to look over your estate plan documents as well to make sure they are up to date. But I also know that not everyone works with a financial planner or is so committed to annual reviews. That's OK too, but if that's the case, you want to keep an eye on major life events as good reminders of time to do updates to your documents.
One of those major life events can be a major medical procedure of some type. The larger the procedure, the more likely your estate plan is to come to your mind.
What Should I Update Before My Surgery?
Before any major surgery, it's a good idea to look at your documents and make sure they reflect your wishes. When people ask which documents should be updated, I will commonly recommend that we check them all because they all could be impacted by your surgery:
- Your Will/Trust - this will affect what happens to your assets and your legacy if something goes wrong and you die.
- Healthcare Documents - these documents will be important if anything happens to you and you are unable to speak or make decisions for yourself regarding your medical care. You'll want to understand them, like what's the difference between a Living Will and a Healthcare Power of Attorney.
- Financial Power of Attorney - a financial power of attorney will be especially important if you will be in the hospital for a while after your procedure and will be unable to take care of your finances.
Checking these documents doesn't have to be a long procedure. By now you should be familiar with what the documents say and who the people are in the roles described in the documents. If everyone's in the right roles, then chances are your documents are good to go. And you should also spend some time talking with your loved ones about your estate plan so they understand what their roles may be.
And if you don't have any of these documents? Well, your upcoming procedure may be the final motivation you need to get those documents completed. It doesn't need to be a long and complex process. You should be able to get them put together and signed before you go in for your procedure.
What Should I Do After My Surgery?
Once your procedure is completed and you're on the mend, it's also a good time to reflect and make sure you've got the right people in the right roles. Maybe someone you designated wasn't really comfortable with the decision they had to make or wasn't particularly reachable when needed. If that's the case, perhaps it's time to consider whether some people should be moved into different roles in your plan (or you should spend some time more deeply considering roles, like the difference between a trustee or a personal representative).
Major medical procedures bring a lot of different thoughts to our minds. I'm sure you've got much bigger things you are thinking about, but don't forget to make sure you've got your plans together as well.
If you need to update your documents, or if you don't have an estate plan and need to get started, let's set up a Legal Strategy Session to make sure we've got those documents in place before your procedure.