Whether you are young, middle-aged, elderly or old; single, married (opposite or same sex), divorced or just contemplating marriage, here is some sobering news: in addition leaving assets to make sure that your loved ones will be taken care after you die, you must also take care to ensure your own well-being through sickness and health while you are alive. While it is a wish that we will all grow old, most of us have experienced directly or indirectly the onset of dementia, incapacity, accidents, unexpected changes in our life plans, death. Taking the time to set up a set of carefully drafted estate planning documents is probably the best gift you could give to your loved ones.

Here are some of the ways we avoid doing what is necessary. See if you can spot the potentially dangerous issues in these vignettes:


WIDOW: “I don’t need one. My husband died 5 years ago without one. And I don’t really have an estate. I have a few bank accounts, some personal jewelry including my now 60 year old diamond engagement ring; and my golden doodle, Brigitte. Oh, and this old house! My daughter will get it all when I die.” (This estate will have to go through Probate.)

COUPLE 82 AND 85: “We made out wills and powers of attorney for finances and health care about a dozen years ago, right after 9/11, wasn’t it? There was this luncheon and a very nice attorney who explained everything to us. We didn’t want the expensive trust he recommended but the wills we made out leave everything to our son who is an attorney and can handle it all. John has a little bit of dementia but we still get on OK.” (The “old house” should be in a Trust; and their 2001 Powers of Attorney for health and finances need to be updated!).

UNMARRIED MAN, 36, IN A SAME SEX RELATIONSHIP: “Well, John and I have been together 10 years and we own our house together in joint tenancy. He put down the down payment and I pay most of the mortgage. So if I die the house will go to John, right? The realtor told us that joint tenancy was the way to go since John’s family doesn’t recognize our relationship. Powers of Attorney, what are those?” (They may be “set” for death; but if either one becomes incapacitated, a conservatorship will be necessary without Powers of Attorney.)

UNLESS YOU TAKE THE TIME, NOW, to get an estate plan in place that ensures that both you and what you have are safe if you should become INCAPACITATED, and UNLESS  YOU TAKE THE TIME to prepare an estate plan so that at your DEATH what you have will go to the people to whom you want it to go to, your estate could wind up in a costly mess where neither you during your life, nor your loved ones at your death, will be taken care of adequately as you would wish.

Putting together a well-drafted, carefully thought out estate plan is the best gift you could give your loved ones.