To Tell or Not to Tell: Shedding Light on Your Estate Plan

Photo By: Kristina Flour,

Several years ago I had a client (I'll call James) share his story with me. 
James and his family watched his father become very ill. At a certain point, the doctors told his family they had to decide whether to leave dad on life support or choose to end life-sustaining measures. James and his family spent hours agonizing over the decision. They questioned whether anyone had this discussion with dad, and what choice would dad make if he was able. Ultimately, the family made the difficult choice to end life support. His father passed away soon after. 
About a week after the funeral, James discovered that his father had created an estate plan. That plan included both a Health Care Power of Attorney (a document naming someone to make healthcare decisions for him) and a Living Will (a document where one chooses whether to be kept on life-sustaining support in certain circumstances.) 
Horrified, James quickly read the documents to find out whether they chose what Dad would have wanted. He shared with me how frustrated and angry he was at his dad. Had they only known these documents existed, James and his family would have been saved from making this gut-wrenching and heartbreaking decision without his dad's guidance. 
As an estate planning attorney, I sadly hear this same story time and time again. You should give certain estate planning documents to your backup decision-makers instead of just keeping them in your planning binder. 
Here are a few tasks I give my clients to ensure their plan works. 
  • First, tell your loved ones! Your family needs to know your plan exists and where you keep the originals. 
  • Second, give electronic copies of your powers of attorney and health care documents to your backup agents. It is imperative your agents have online access to these documents in an emergency to ensure your plan works.  
  • Third, create an emergency contact card in your wallet listing your healthcare agents and their cell phone numbers. 
Your estate plan should not be your best kept secret. Make sure your documents see the light of day!
If you haven’t yet planned, let us help. We love helping protect families! Contact Cholewka Law at 480-497-3770 to schedule an appointment or visit for more information.