In Marvel Studios’ latest television miniseries, Wanda Maximoff (Scarlet Witch) is so devastated by the death of her partner, Vision, that she uses her telekinesis and reality-warping powers to create a static wall around the town of Westview, New Jersey.
Within the static wall of Westview, she brings a version of Vision back to life and creates a home for them.
Unfortunately, we can’t all send utensils flying around the kitchen to make dinner or get the house to clean itself (even if you have a Roomba)—or bring someone back to life.
But we can take a few lessons from WandaVision: make estate plans now, determine how decisions will be made if you’re incapacitated, and organize to protect those you love in the future.
Make a plan
In the first episode of WandaVision, Vision’s boss and his wife come over for dinner. They’re normal people, unaware of their hosts’ unusual background. The boss asks Wanda and Vision questions about themselves, and throws Wanda for a loop—she hasn’t thought up a story for them yet.
The first step is to make a plan. And for those of us in the real world, that often involves a will. But the truth of the matter is that a will is often not enough to guarantee that personal estates are distributed in the way someone hopes for. A traditional will is subject to probate, a process of showing your will to be valid in court. It’s a matter of public record—so the process isn’t private—and it’s often a pain point for family.
A will gives you far less control than a revocable living trust. Assets placed into a revocable living trust belong to the trust—not you—and therefore aren’t subject to probate. However, you still control the assets, so you can make changes and continue to earn income produced by the trust’s assets.
Know how decisions will be made
Even Wanda—who can set a static field around a whole town—needs assistance when it comes time to give birth to her sons. The doctor is out of town and another character, Geraldine, helps Wanda through the delivery.
Granting someone power of attorney (POA) enables that person to make legal decisions for you if you’re incapacitated. This can be immensely helpful if you’re unable to make financial decisions for a period of time—but does require you to trust the person you’ve chosen to act in your best interest.
Advanced healthcare directives work similarly. They allow you to note a legal preference for what kind of medical care you’d like to receive in various situations—such as being on life support. They can also set a trusted person up to act as your proxy and make healthcare decisions for you.
Organize for loved ones
Wanda faces some tense moments around the fate of her twin sons. At one moment, they even begin to disintegrate! While human children outside the Marvel Cinematic Universe may not be subject to such strange calamities, there are still a host of very real problems that can befall them, especially if something happens to their parents.
Trusts provide a solid option for determining who will inherit your assets—and how. In addition to the living trusts mentioned above, there are many irrevocable trust options, including irrevocable life insurance trusts (ILIT), which are commonly used by families with substantial assets.
Once assets are placed into an irrevocable trust, the terms can’t be modified. But that lack of flexibility is part of what makes an irrevocable trust so effective at achieving other goals.
Assets in an irrevocable trust are no longer the property of the grantor—so the trust provides a tax shelter and protects assets in the event that you’re sued in a lawsuit. The grantor has some flexibility in determining how assets will be distributed, too.
A life insurance policy is the primary asset funding an ILIT. Beneficiaries aren’t the owners of the trust, so an ILIT also provides a level of protection for the beneficiaries if they’re involved in a lawsuit. Likewise, an ILIT is structured so that young or fiscally-irresponsible beneficiaries can’t spend all the money at once.
Look to the future
None of us can control the future. Even Wanda’s hold on what happens in the bubble cracks from time to time.
Your best insurance against the unpredictable is to plan ahead. There are many kinds of trusts that can help you continue your legacy no matter what happens—and ensure that assets go to loved ones in the way you intended.
Likewise, taking the time to set up power of attorney and an advanced healthcare directive can help ensure that if life takes an unanticipated swerve, your preferences for your own care are still followed as closely as possible.
At least, until you gain the powers of the Scarlet Witch. Then all bets are off. Static field, anyone?
If you have questions about trusts, power of attorney, or other estate planning concerns, contact us. Our experienced Texas attorneys can guide you through the process.