If you scour the Internet, you’ll find no shortage of opinions on which was the greatest offensive line in NFL history. Fans of the old-school NFL seem to lean towards the 1971 Oakland Raiders, with Art Shell, Gene Upshaw, Jim Otto, George Buehler, and Bob Brown. Those who prefer new-school NFL seem to favor the 2003 Kansas City Chiefs, with Willie Roaf, John Tait, Will Shields, Casey Wiegmann, and Brian Waters. In Arkansas, you might be more likely to hear votes for the Dallas Cowboys’ offensive line of the mid-1990s, which led the way to three Super Bowl wins and paved the way for arguably the best running back in league history, Emmitt Smith.
No matter how you cast your vote for greatest offensive line of all time, one thing we can all agree on is that the protection of a solid offensive line is essential to having a good football team. Offensive lineman might not be the most glamorous position on a football team, but most football fans agree that a quarterback is only as good as his offensive line. Creating holes for every great running back is a solid offensive lineman. And the main job of every offensive lineman is protection, protection, protection.
Leave it to an elder law attorney to relate this universal football truth back to estate planning. Some of the most important parts of a good estate plan are not glamorous, but they are essential to protecting families.
One of the most important estate planning documents that everyone should have is a thorough general durable power of attorney. This document is not glamorous and it’s not exciting, but it ensures that someone is designated to handle your business and financial affairs when you can’t, without the necessity of a court-appointed guardian. Another similar document is the healthcare power of attorney. This document allows a person of your choosing to handle your healthcare matters if and when you can’t handle them yourselves. These two simple documents can help protect you and your family from going through the unwanted, expensive guardianship process in most cases.
On the topic of health care documents, two other essential documents that don’t get much attention are the medical records release form and the living will. Federal law provides that your doctors and hospitals cannot release your medical information to anyone but you. But there may be instances in which you want certain family members to have access to those records. A medical records release form can protect your family from unwanted hassles when those circumstances arise. The living will is a document that gives your family much needed guidance during difficult end-of-life situations. It ensures that your wishes are carried out and takes some of the burden off your family to determine the best course of action in very difficult situations.
Another easily overlooked component of estate planning involves the titles on your bank accounts. It is very common for individuals, especially as they get older, to add their children’s names to their bank accounts as co-owners. This can be very unsafe. Any legal trouble suffered by any co-owner on your bank account, including bankruptcy, divorce, and litigation, can put the funds in your account in jeopardy. Additionally, adding co-owners to accounts can circumvent your estate plan. For example, I once worked with a family where the father had four children, and his estate plan directed everything he owned at death to those four children in equal shares. However, he added one of his daughters to all of his bank accounts so that she could manage his financial affairs if and when he couldn’t do it himself. The other three children were disappointed when that daughter kept all the money in those accounts, and they were shocked when they learned that the law actually allowed her to do it, despite his estate plan. A general durable power of attorney would have allowed this daughter to manage this father’s accounts without causing this family dispute.
When your goal is protecting your family, it’s never too early to start planning. Whether you’re a new parent looking to make sure your family is taken care of no matter what lies ahead, or you’re in your 80s seeking to make sure your affairs are in order, do your research, plan ahead, and do what it takes to protect what is most important to you.