A Celebrity’s Daughter’s Death and Estate Planning for Young Adults

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the importance of having your now adult child get his or her estate planning documents prepared.  The idea may seem unnecessary at first blush — your now 18 year old (or twenty-something) “adult” child has just reached the legal age of adulthood and likely has yet to accumulate significant assets.  He or she may in many ways seem still like a child to you, and not yet ready for important adult documents.  However, under the law, they are adults, and you are no longer their default decisionmaker nor are you automatically granted access to your adult child’s medical records.  This is an important time for your child to designate whom he or she wishes to make these types of decisions.

A celebrity death serves as reminder to us of all the necessity of getting these documents in place.  Bobbi Kristina Brown, the twenty-two year old daughter of Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown, died recently after several months in a comatose state.  You can read more about the tragic story here and here.  Unfortunately, her lack of incapacity planning documentation and resulting legal protections (not unusual, given her age) resulted in a family legal fight during her incapacity.  A reminder to talk with your young adult children about the necessity of getting, at a minimum, their incapacity documents in place under the counsel of an estate planning attorney.

Joan Rivers and End of Life Planning

Fellow legal bloggers Danielle and Andy Mayoras (find them here and here) have a great article today about end-of-life lessons to be learned from Joan River’s passing.  All estate plans should include planning for incapacity and end-of-life decision making.  The Mayoras’ article excellently explains why this is so important.

As they explain:  “Too many people think that estate planning is all about wills and trusts.  Far from it, end of life planning is often more important.  In fact, every adult over the age of 18 needs to have some type of advance directive in place.”   The consequences of not having such documents and place, can include a public and invasive guardianship proceedings through the courts, in order for the family to be legally appointed the decision makers.  In the case of facing an end of life decision, such as in Joan Rivers’ example, this process could be particularly painful and compound the grieving process of the family forced to make such decisions.  (Can you imagine the pain of having to go to court to obtain a guardianship while your loved one is near life’s end?)  Further, as the Mayoras explain, the guardianship process “can set the stage for a nasty family fight if people disagree on termination of life support (Terri Schiavo being a prominent example), or even a complete refusal to allow the life support to end, if the patient’s wishes were never reflected in writing.”

Bottom line: incapacity planning, including appointing a decisionmaker and stating your end-of-life wishes through a Living Will, are essential to any solid estate plan.  Such planning is an invaluable gift to yourself and your loved ones.

Four Essential Documents

Estate planning can sometimes appear complicated, full of acronyms and sophisticated sounding concepts. While it is true that estate planning can be complicated, in its simplest form, an Indiana estate plan should consist of at least the following four documents:

  1. Last Will and Testament. In its most basic form, your Will provides for you to direct the distribution of your assets titled to your name individually upon your death and appoint a person (or persons) to administer your estate upon your death. If you die without a Will, assets titled in your individual name may be subject to intestate administration.
  1. Appointment of Health Care Representative. Also called Health Care Proxy and Health Care Power of Attorney, this document provides for the appointment of a person (or persons) to make medical decisions for you in the event that you are incapacitated and unable to make decisions for yourself.
  1. General Durable Power of Attorney. In your General Durable Power of Attorney, you name a person (or persons) to make financial decisions for you in the event of your incapacity.
  1. Living Will. Your Living Will allows you to state your preferences regarding end of life decisions in the event of an incurable illness or persistent vegetative state.