Estate planning is a cross between planning for the inevitable and planning for the unexpected. You will die one day, yet you do not know when or how.
While an estate plan should cover what happens when you leave this world, it should also set out what happens if you are hanging on by a thread.
Death does not always come instantly. A car crash could end your life, or it could leave you alive but unable to speak or think as you once could. Illness can do the same. Some diseases kill quickly. Others attack your body and strip you of your faculties little by little.
Who speaks and acts on your behalf if you cannot do so yourself?
Let’s say you are putting up Christmas lights around the garden and fall from the ladder. You hit your head with force or land on something that penetrates your skull and are left with a severe brain injury. Now, what happens?
Who has the legal authority to access your funds and make payments for you? Who has the legal authority to tell the doctors what treatments you do and do not want? For this, you need to set up powers of attorney — one for your affairs and one to make health care decisions. Both things should be part of your estate plan.
If you are a parent, you also need to name a guardian in your estate plan. They can raise your child if you and your partner or co-parent cannot because you are incapacitated or dead. While it is unlikely that both parents die at the same time, it can happen.
Hopefully, the primary purpose of your estate plan will turn out to be distributing your assets after a peaceful death, many years from now. Yet you can never tell, so you need to be prepared for the worst.