Why First Responders Need Estate Plans

First responders know the risks they face as part of their jobs. They put their lives on the line when responding to natural and manmade disasters, accidents, fires, disease outbreaks, and crime scenes. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 838 emergency responders – public-sector law enforcement, firefighters, and ambulance crews – died from injuries suffered on the job from 2011 to 2015.

Because first responders have high-risk jobs, you should be prepared for the unexpected to happen on any given day. Proper preparation includes documenting what medical care you want to be provided in case of an incapacitating injury and what plans should be in place to protect your family’s financial security if you should die in the line of duty.

The estate planning attorneys of Brady Cobin Law Group in Raleigh and Wake Forest, NC, can help first responders in North Carolina legally document critical decisions about protecting their families and their hard-earned money, and ensuring their end-of-life health care wishes are carried out.

If you are an emergency responder who does not have a will, a health care directive, a medical power of attorney designee, or similar estate planning documents, we urge you to make an appointment with an estate planning attorney today. Protect your family and ensure that your decisions about the future are known. Phone (919) 782-3500 or contact us online now.

Estate Planning Documents First Responders Need

No first responder expects to be badly injured or die while performing his or her duties. But, as a first responder, you train and plan for all possibilities. Estate planning is prudent and responsible planning for your family in case the worst-case scenario occurs.

In many cases, a first responder’s spouse would step in to make healthcare decisions and handle financial affairs after an accident. But unmarried first-responders need to name someone to that role, and even among those who are married, there may be reasons to name someone other than the spouse to certain responsibilities.

Among the documents that our attorneys would discuss preparing for a police officer, deputy sheriff, firefighter, EMT, paramedic or other emergency responders are:

  • Health care directive also called an “advance medical directive.” An advance medical directive is activated if you have been injured and cannot speak for yourself. It says the type of care you want to receive. It typically includes a health care power of attorney, which names someone to act on your behalf and make medical decisions for you if you are incapacitated. A health care power of attorney would also establish HIPAA authorizations, allowing medical providers and others to disclose personal health information to the designee.
    You may also execute a living will, a legal document stating that you do not wish to have your life prolonged by the use of extraordinary medical measures if you are in a vegetative state. This is sometimes called a “declaration of a desire for a natural death.”
    An advance medical directive will ease some of your loved ones’ burden if they ever find themselves in the position of having to make end-of-life decisions for you.
  • Financial power of attorney. This power of attorney authorizes someone to handle your financial matters if you are unable to do so. You can limit the scope of this authority when you set the document up.
  • Will. Regardless of the value of your estate, you should have a will in place to direct how your assets should be distributed. Without a will in North Carolina, a decedent’s estate is divided according to whether they have a spouse, children, or other family members in a strict line of succession. The rules are complex and offer no consideration for how close such family members were to the decedent.
    A will may name your preference for who will serve as guardian for your underage children. Typically, the child’s surviving parent will continue to care for the child, but you may be a single parent or there may be reasons a child’s other biological parent cannot or should not assume guardianship.
  • Trust. Setting up a trust allows you to have some control over how your children’s inheritance will be managed. You can name a trustee to oversee your children’s money to ensure it meets their needs through the years.
    A trust can ensure that your children’s inheritance is not distributed outright to them when they turn 18, so that the resources you’ve left for the future are not squandered because of immaturity or misjudgment.

Estate Planning Checklist

Estate planning is a process for determining what happens to you and the assets you’ve worked a lifetime to accumulate when you cannot speak for yourself due to your death or incapacitation. As you sit down to make these decisions, take these steps first:

  • Make an asset inventory. Make a list with estimated values of your assets:
  • Home or other real estate
  • Vehicles including cars, motorcycles, or boats
  • Collectibles such as art, antiques, coins, trading cards.
  • Bank accounts, including checking and savings accounts and certificates of deposit
  • Life insurance policies
  • Retirement plans, such as workplace 401(k) plans
  • Health savings accounts
  • Stocks, bonds, mutual funds.
  • Ownership in a business.
  • Determine your estate’s value. Add up the value of your assets, then subtract what you owe (debts, such as mortgages, credit card balances, other loans). This determines your net worth. North Carolina does not have an estate tax, and the federal government only taxes estates worth several millions of dollars. However, estates are required to pay the decedent’s debts.
  • List your loved ones’ needs. Who are you providing for today? What will they need tomorrow? Think about how much insurance and/or investments you have and what they will provide. Consider your children’s educational needs as well as any special needs, such as ongoing medical care or financial assistance for your children or other loved ones you support.
  • Determine your desires. Decide who should be the executor of your estate (named in your will) or who should hold power of attorney and make decisions for you. Decide what extent of medical intervention you’ll want if you suffer a catastrophic injury. Decide who you want to have your possessions.
  • Review your beneficiary designations. Check who your retirement and insurance accounts name as beneficiaries. Make sure they are up to date and that these funds will be disbursed so that they do the most good. Be sure you have named contingent beneficiaries.

Contact an Estate Planning Lawyer Today in North Carolina

We can’t predict the future, except that we know it ends for each of us. If you are a first responder, you also know that you may put yourself in harm’s way as part of your job. The need to have an estate plan in place will come, and it often comes unexpectedly.

The Brady Cobin Law Group has decades of experience in estate planning and can lead you through the steps necessary to craft a well-laid plan that protects your family’s future. Don’t wait. You’ll feel better having it done. Contact us today to start your estate plan.