Here are 8 items to assist you and your family in securing the essential components and goals of your estate plan:
1. A Will:
A Last Will and Testament (a Will) provides instructions for distributing assets to your family and other beneficiaries. Your Will also appoints someone to be a Personal Representative (Executor) to pay final expenses, taxes, etc. and then distribute the remaining assets. If you have minor children, a Will is also a way to designate a Guardian for them and a Conservator to watch over their inheritance. A Will does not take effect until you die and it cannot provide for management of your assets if you become incapacitated. That’s why it may be necessary to have other estate planning documents in place which become effective if you should be unable to act.
2. A Durable Power of Attorney designating who will handle your business affairs and health care decisions if you are disabled or unable to act:
A power of attorney (POA) is a legal document in which you name another person to act on your behalf. You can give this person/agent broad or limited powers. You should consider choosing this person carefully because he or she will be able to sell, invest and spend or distribute your assets. A traditional power of attorney terminates upon your disability or death. A durable power of attorney continues during incapacity and terminates upon your death.
3. A Health Care Proxy and Living Will:
A Health Care Proxy authorizes the person you designate to make medical decisions for you in the event you are unable to do so yourself. This document, coupled with a Living Will, may be necessary to avoid family conflicts and even court intervention should you become unable to make your own health care decisions. A Living Will provides your wishes regarding the use of life-sustaining measures in the event of a terminal illness. It says what you want done and what you don’t want done, but doesn’t give any individual the legal authority to speak for you. That is why it is usually coupled with a Health Care Proxy. A Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) or Medical Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment (MOLST) medical order written by a doctor is optional. It instructs health care providers not to do cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) if a patient’s breathing stops or if the patient’s heart stops beating. Some feel this is an important document while others don’t.
4. A revocable living trust to transfer, manage, and distribute assets while you are alive and that will avoid probate after your death:
There are many different kinds of trusts, which are primarily used to manage a minor’s inheritance and to minimize estate taxes. Each trust has benefits and should be discussed with your estate planning attorney. There are marital trusts, charitable trusts, generation-skipping trusts, bypass trusts, testamentary trusts, qualified terminable interest property trusts, and so on. A revocable living trust is a trust often used in estate plans. By transferring assets into a revocable living trust, you can manage your financial affairs during your lifetime and provide management if you become incapacitated. A revocable living trust lets trust assets avoid probate, keeps personal information private, and can designate the disposition of trust assets to future generations.
5. A list of your assets and where they are located, including safe deposit boxes:
Have this discussion with your attorney, spouse, or appropriate family member, trustee, etc. Also have a discussion with your asset manager, accountant/CPA, and attorney as to the tax consequences of your estate plan.
6. A list of password information for accounts to check your digital footprints:
Most people are not aware of the full extent of their digital presence and a review of the steps necessary to protect online information after your death or if you are no longer able to act may be warranted.
7. A legacy letter:
This is a document designed to pass “ethical values” from one generation to the next. Traditional Wills involve what you want your loved ones to have. Ethical Wills involve what you want your loved ones to know.
8. A letter to your spouse/family:
Consider writing a letter to your spouse or family regarding your wishes should you need to be removed from life support. This letter can make their doing so a great deal easier if you reiterate that this is your wish with a personal, not formal, request.
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