Why Are Estate Planning Documents So Long? To better help and guide your family when needed.

Many people think that shorter Estate Planning documents are more straightforward and more comfortable to work with, so it can be overwhelming when you first see your will or trust and how long it might be. Here are some reasons why our documents are so many pages long.

First, the documents are written with the end-user in mind; that's you and your family. Those shorter documents tend to take a lot of shortcuts. For example, when you see something like a power of attorney document, it might have a whole bunch of statutory references where it says something like, 'my agent is authorized to do all of the powers under North Carolina statute...' and so on. If you or your family don't know what that statute says, how do you know what the documents are really doing for you? And this is a recipe for your agents to get bullied by the bank systems and the health care systems because they don't know what their powers genuinely are. Rather than rely on those shortcuts, we like to have everything spelled out line by line, in black and white, right within your document.

We even take one step further and add additional language to our documents to help guide your family. For example, many banks don't like accepting powers of attorney documents, and they tend to give your agent some pushback. So we added language to our paper to make sure that your agent knows what their rights are and knows how to get that document honored when they need it and don't get bullied by the bankers. Similarly, in your healthcare directives, we've added additional provisions. Many of our clients tell us that if they were in some end-of-life situation, they would rather pass away in the comfort of their own home surrounded by their loved ones than be in a sterile hospital environment. So we added language to our documents to ensure that your healthcare agent knows they're authorized to discharge you from the hospital against medical advice if that's what's needed to honor your medical wishes.

The third reason is that our documents include a lot of backup provisions. Now, we always hope that you won't need these, but we want your family to have them just in case they need them. Here's an example. Maybe right now, none of your beneficiaries have any disability, but that could always change in the future. Commonly, folks with disabilities rely on government financial or medical benefits, and an inheritance from you could disqualify them from those benefits. So our documents usually include some backup provisions to make sure this doesn't happen. Without those provisions, your family would have to go to court and go through a long, drawn-out process to get that sorted out.
Another example would be that most of our trust documents allow for what is called a "trust protector." Again, we hope you're never going to need it, but it is something we want you to have just in case. You see, the issue here is that most trusts continue to operate after you become disabled or after you pass away, and there's always a possibility that circumstances could change. We could have a significant law change or have an unanticipated situation with one of your beneficiaries. We might be in a condition where the trust doesn't make sense anymore or is causing some negative impact, like unnecessary taxes. A trust protector is typically an impartial third party like an attorney or CPA that can modify the trust consistent with your original goals. We do this because this allows us to be cleaned up privately rather than go through the unnecessary time and expense of going to court to get the trust modified somehow. 

And then lastly, we supplement those legal documents with additional tools to help your family. If you pile these powers of attorney and trust documents on your family, you're going to be stressed out, and they're not going to know what to do. So again, we try to think about the end-user here. When we put our plan together for you, we include instructions for your future helpers. For example, for your future financial power of attorney, we have instructions about what their role means, their duties and responsibilities, frequently asked questions, or issues that tend to come up. Hence, they know how to deal with those challenges that might come up down the road, and we even give them a checklist of some of the things they need to take care of. Similarly, for your healthcare power of attorney, we're going to do the same thing, explain their role, explain their powers and responsibilities, or frequent issues that come up when they're tackling these healthcare issues on your behalf. So we want to make sure that we've set your family up for success and have all the tools that they need to do their job effectively.

Jackie Bedard
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Attorney, Author, and Founder of Carolina Family Estate Planning