Estate Planning: Take Control of Your Future

Comedian and former long-time Tonight Show host Jay Leno recently filed for legal conservatorship over his wife, Mavis. Leno, known for his famed stand-up comedy career and his passion for automobiles, hosted NBC’s Tonight Show for over 20 years. Now in his early 70s, he remains a popular figure. His wife Mavis, whom he’s been married to since 1980, has faced undisclosed health issues for years.

Conservatorships allow one spouse to gain legal control over an impaired partner’s life and finances. While the details surrounding Mavis’ illness remain private, Jay Leno allegedly filed for conservatorship due to her inability to handle her own well-being and care. This situation highlights the emotional difficulty of seeing a loved one decline in health—as well as the importance of advanced estate planning. Even celebrities may end up incapacitated without the proper legal documentation in place beforehand.


No one can predict when accidents or illnesses may leave them or their partner unable to make their own decisions regarding healthcare, finances, and more. By creating comprehensive plans ahead of major issues arising, you can provide legally binding guidance for how your care should be handled. With thorough estate planning, your wishes can be carried out related to medical treatments, bill payments, inheritance distribution, and virtually anything else pertaining to your life and family. Though thinking about losing decision-making capacity can be uncomfortable, having the right plan in place can provide immense peace of mind when life’s difficulties strike.

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So what exactly is estate planning and how do you get started on your own plan? 

An estate plan refers to the legal instructions outlining what happens to your money, property, and care if you become incapacitated or pass away. It involves coordinating assets and documents like a will, power of attorney, healthcare directives, and more. With a proper estate plan, you designate who will make important life and death decisions on your behalf if you cannot. This provides you control and ensures your values are upheld even when you lack the capacity to express your wishes.

Beginning the estate planning process may seem daunting, but it can be broken down into easy steps: 

The first step is to get organized by compiling information about your accounts, debts, insurance policies, property deeds, and other key documentation. Make lists of contacts like your attorney, financial advisor, doctors, and potential executors or guardians. Include passwords so your designees can access electronics and accounts if necessary. 

Next, give thought to distributing possessions. Draft a will detailing who should inherit assets if you pass away. You may also consider gifting items ahead of time. If you have children or pets, name guardians you trust to assume care for them. Ensure to ask potential guardians first before naming them. 

Another key aspect is identifying patient advocates and agents to manage healthcare and financial choices if you’re alive but incapacitated. Document any medical treatment preferences like end-of-life care options. Formally authorize someone to make medical decisions on your behalf with a healthcare power of attorney. Designate financial power of attorney to an agent so they may handle needs like paying bills if you cannot.

If unmarried, estate planning is still essential if you want a partner or friend involved in healthcare and financial choices. Powers of attorney and healthcare surrogate forms allow appointing them as decision-makers. This grants them legal standing otherwise reserved only for spouses and immediate family.

Finally, meet with an estate planning attorney to formalize your plan. They will ensure your instructions align with state laws and allow you to formally sign binding documents. They can also provide tailored legal advice and documents based on your specific situation and wishes. Be sure to seek out a trustworthy attorney you feel comfortable opening up to about personal matters like healthcare preferences and end-of-life options. 

Revisit your estate plan periodically, especially after major life events like marriage, divorce, or the birth of children. Consider digitally archiving copies so executors can easily access them if needed.

If hiring a lawyer feels daunting or expensive, several reputable online resources also exist offering tools and guidance on creating elements of an estate plan. Sites like Nolo and RocketLawyer give educational overviews and customizable templates or software to generate documents like basic wills, powers of attorney and more. While convenient, keep in mind that estate laws vary by state, so online forms may not stand up the same as those drafted by a licensed professional well-versed in local regulations. These sites can act as an accessible starting point before seeking personalized legal help.

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When is the right time to create an estate plan? 

While it may seem morbid to contemplate when young or healthy, estate planning can benefit anyone over age 18. Adults of all ages face the risk of accidents or sudden illnesses leaving them unable to make decisions or manage affairs. Comprehensive estate planning allows selecting trusted advocates to step in if anything unexpected occurs. Young adults with few assets can focus plans more on healthcare preferences by assigning medical power of attorney to a parent or guardian. 

As you take on more financial responsibilities like home ownership, marriage, or children, revisit your estate plan periodically to ensure it keeps pace with your evolving needs and wishes. Major life milestones like pregnancies, divorces, or new chronic health conditions also warrant reassessing. Ideally, aim to create at least basic estate planning after becoming a legal adult along with reevaluating details every few years as your life situation changes. This helps guarantee someone you trust has legal standing to manage care for any children, pets, and assets should an unforeseen event leave you unable to handle your own needs a few months or decades down the road.

While contemplating one’s mortality and loss of mental capacity is uncomfortable, having an estate plan provides peace of mind. You can rest assured knowing your wishes will be carried out and those you love will be cared for if the unforeseen occurs. Leadership at places like offers many articles and resources to guide you through the estate planning process. While each situation is unique, an estate plan thoughtfully tailored for you can ease life’s hardest decisions for those you love most when you cannot make them.

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