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Discuss estate plans with your children

September 09, 2005|By LYNN F. LITTLE

As we age, we have the same desire to be physically and financially independent as we did when we were younger, and it's difficult even to consider other alternatives. Our children don't want to be nosy, but they would like to know if we need help. These are the things they want to know:

  • Are you going to have enough money?

  • Where do you want to live?

  • What are your wishes if you are terminally ill? And do you and your spouse agree?

  • Where are your important papers (insurance, investments, pension, social security, etc.) filed?

  • Who are your financial advisers?

    You can reassure your children if you take the time to draw up three documents: a will; a durable power of attorney; and advanced directives, with a health-care agent named.

    The will specifically states your wishes. All property owned as joint tenancy will automatically pass to the other owner. If you have property that never has been recorded as joint tenants, a will is the only way to ensure that your wishes are carried out.

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If you die without a will, all property owned solely by you will be divided according to the laws in Maryland. The division will include the spouse, but it also might include the decedent's children and parents. Maryland Cooperative Extension has a fact sheet, Writing Wills in Maryland, that explains the laws.

The second tool that will communicate to your children that you are doing everything you can to protect you and them is a durable power of attorney. If something happens to you and you are unable to make decisions, the person named as your power of attorney can sign taxes, sell property and execute financial decisions on your behalf. If you do not have a durable power of attorney, your children might need to have the court appoint someone to manage your affairs. This can be a lengthy and costly process.

Your third tool is the "advance directive." A Maryland law called the Health Care Decisions Act says that you can do health care planning through advance directives. The advance directive has two forms ? the living will and the advance directive, part A and B. Part A allows you to name a health care agent. This will give the person you choose the power to make health-care decisions for you in the event that you are unable to make these decisions. This person can act in your behalf even if you are not terminally ill. Part B allows you to provide health care instructions in the event you are not capable of making an informed decision regarding your health care.

A living will clearly states that if you are terminally ill or in a persistent vegetative state, you direct your health care providers to follow instructions you have set forth. This is a very difficult decision for family members to have to make if you are unable to communicate with them and have not left a living will.

Be certain to talk with the person or persons you would like to name to act in your behalf with a power of attorney.

When all of these documents are completed, let your children know. You don't have to give them the details of your will, but let them know who is named to act with your power of attorney and where all of your important documents are stored. You will be giving your children a gift of love and responsibility.

For Maryland advanced directives, go to www.oag.state.md.us/HealthPol/index.htm. To find the Writing Wills in Maryland fact sheet, go to www.agnr.umd.edu/MCE/publications and click on family life and community. Copies also can be obtained by calling Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County at 301-791-1504.

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