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Be proactive about estate planning

The last thing a family wants to do during the holidays is think about or discuss estate planning. But families usually are together during this time, including elderly relatives, so it’s an ideal opportunity to address this subject. 

Estate planning is not just about what happens when someone dies. It also includes plans while family members are alive. In an emergency, it’s important to know what is in place and where important documents are located. Therefore, it is helpful to ask your family members, especially any aging family members, in advance if they have made plans or have preferences if they become incapacitated. At a minimum, it is good to know such wishes, whether they have executed any of the following legal documents and where to find them. 


This document informs health care professionals about a patient’s wishes regarding end-of-life medical decisions — or it can allow someone else to make such decisions if the individual is unconscious or unable to state such preferences. 

The purpose of this document is to include a healthcare power of attorney and/or advance directive so another person may become your agent and voice if you become unable to speak for yourself. This document can be flexible, and specific instructions may be added to include any particular wishes in the event of incapacitation. 


A trust is a legal document stating directions for how the trustee — who could be you, your loved one or another named individual — should hold and handle certain assets, including how and when the assets should be spent and who benefits from them. This includes the use or allocation of the assets during the life and after the death of the trust creator. A last will and testament states what happens to assets upon the death of the person who owned them and created the will. 

After a loved one develops dementia, it is too late to create these documents. They must be made and signed before he or she loses the mental ability, or legal capacity, to sign them. The documents always can be amended later as long as the individual has the mental capacity to do so. Therefore, it’s in everyone’s best interest to ensure these documents are in place so a person’s wishes are known and her voice is always heard.

Van Zutphen of Coastwide Law LLC is an attorney licensed to practice law in Alabama and Mississippi. She focuses on the “elder law” areas of trusts, estates and conservatorships. Additionally, she litigates lawsuits and represents small business owners as part of her legal practice. Visit learn more or reach her at her office: (228) 357-5227. 

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