Not sure where this goes but I thought it might be helpful especially for folks planning a Long Distance hike. I am an estate planning attorney by trade and would like to offer the Whiteblaze community some general estate planning tips and observations. Now this is a very general overview. Each state has different rules and regulations. I can’t give legal advice to people who aren’t in NC (where I am licensed) *Don Pardo voice* “Void where prohibited, some restrictions apply, this article does not constitute the creation of an attorney client relationship and is for purely informational purposes only, batteries not included”. The problem with estate planning is it conjures up a lot of different and often inaccurate connotations and perceptions. Many people tell me in so many words that estate planning means “Death Planning for Really Rich Old People”
There are several problems with this “definition” the first is old. Notice how old changes? When I was in high school 30 looked pretty old to me, now 30 looks pretty good! Second issue is “rich” people use wealth or a perceived lack of it as a way of filtering themselves out of estate planning. Lastly is “death planning”. While stating your intentions after your death is a part of estate planning, there are many facets of estate planning that have nothing to do with death at all. To me estate planning has three main components: 1) I want to control my stuff while I am alive and well, 2) I want to protect myself and provide for my loved ones if I become disabled, 3) When I die, I want give what I want, to whom I want, the way I want.
The reality is, everyone reading this post has an estate plan. They either have a plan they have created for themselves or they have the one provided for them by their state legislature. We either live by design or default. Everyone has a need for what I call “The Basic Four”. These are the basic documents that everyone needs regardless of their situation.
The first is “The Will” Basically who gets your stuff and who gets your kids. Without one the state decides who gets what. For example, in North Carolina, if a husband and wife have two kids, and the husband dies without a will (in all my examples the husband dies first), the wife gets 1/3 of his estate, the balance goes to the kids. If the kids are under 18, the assets go to the court and the court manages it for them until they are 18, surviving wife has get permission from the court to use that money for kids benefit. Again every state will be different but just an example.
The second is a “Power of Attorney”. This document allows you to give another person the right to conduct business and legal actions on your behalf (ie pay your bills, file your taxes, handle your banking). You can set this up to last for a specific period of time (limited) or to go on indefinitely (durable). A limited Power of Attorney would be very useful to a thru hiker to allow someone the ability to handle “real world stuff” while on the trail. Without one, if a need arises, the court would have to declare you incompetent and appoint someone to handle your affairs. Not fun.
The third is a “Health Care Power of Attorney” some states will refer to these as a Health Care or Advance Care Directive. This document basically appoints a “chain of command” of who gets to make medical decisions on your behalf if you can’t. You could pick a hiking buddy if you are pairing up with someone. Again without it, the court decides. The most extreme recent example of what can happen without this document is the Terry Schiavo situation. A Health Care Power of Attorney would have stopped that in a hurry.
Lastly is a “Living Will”. It outlines under what conditions you can be taken off of life support. Sometimes this document is combined with the Health Care Power of Attorney.
Getting these documents are fairly inexpensive. For those who don’t think they can afford to go to an attorney there are lots of DYI options available. Often not as good (of course I am biased) but it is better than nothing. Health Care Power of Attorney and Living will can sometimes be stored with your state’s secretary of State (NC offers this). A company called Docubank (www.docubank.com) will record a copy of the documents and give you a card. In an emergency, a phone number on the card is called and they will fax the documents to the hospital, doctor of whatever.
Not wanting to start a flame war, because I know this can be controversial but most major medical polices stop covering college students once they graduate, hit 25, or are no longer considered full time. If you are still on your folks policy, check to see if you are still covered and plan accordingly.
In my opinion (again I know I am biased) this should be an integral part of anyone’s life. It is preventative planning. It is better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it. It can be of great benefit and doesn’t add weight to your pack! I know I have thrown a lot out here but at the same this is a very general post and I have used some pretty broad brush strokes. If you have additional questions, I will be happy to answer as best as I can. This is one area where I can offer some expertise to this community that has given me so much already. I hope it is helpful.