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Estate planning is important no matter the size of your estate or the wealth you have. If you have objects that you want to give to specific people or even a life insurance policy, you should make a basic estate plan so that there is no confusion when you pass and your estate and debts can be dealt with in a way that coincides with your goals and plans.
Without an estate plan, things that you may have wanted to give to children or friends could be sold to pay bills or intra-family fights can develop over who receives what. By putting your wishes down plainly your family members will have a clear understanding of what you wanted and you will feel secure that your affairs are in order.
List of Estate Planning Documents
Last Will and Testament
The last will and testament is the most common and well-known estate planning legal document. It outlines who you will give your assets to. A will can also specify how to settle your affairs, such as how to use your money to pay your last expenses (including funeral expenses), pay your debts, and which physical objects should be given to whom. It can also be used to gift money or things to charity. The will should also name an executor and a backup executor, who will be responsible for carrying out the wishes found in the will.
A will must go through the probate process in a probate court, which is a legal process in which the will is proven to be true and then the executor (or personal representative) will be tasked with fulfilling the wishes of the will, so long as they comply with the law. The probate process can take months and because it takes place in a court it is open to public discovery. For those that wish to bypass the probate process, there are several strategies, such as Pay-On-Death (POD) accounts, life insurance, and using different kinds of trusts. However, you should consult an estate planning attorney before using any of these strategies.
A living will is a document used to make your wishes known regarding your end of life care and organ donation choices if you are in a terminal condition (terminally ill), a persistent vegetative state, or have an end-state condition. The document will also allow you to choose whether you wish to receive pain medication and how flexible or rigid the document should be adhered to. This document is important because it will greatly relieve your family of the burden of making these decisions for you and not knowing if they are making the ones you may have wished for.
Designation of Health Care Surrogate
In many states, a Designation of Health Care Surrogate form is the method by which you appoint an individual (or multiple individuals) and a backup individual as agents to make medical decisions for medical treatment, surgical and diagnostic procedures on your behalf in the event that you are deemed to have become incapacitated.
HIPAA Authorization Form
A HIPAA Authorization Form lists the individuals who are to have access to your medical records. Your medical records under HIPAA are protected, however by executing this document the individuals listed may have access to any and all of your medical records. You may give them access to all your records or you may give them access to all, except certain records, such as mental health, alcohol/drug abuse treatment records, et cetera. The scope of the access is entirely up to you. It is also best to make sure you execute this form in conjunction with the Designation of Health Care Surrogate above.
Power of Attorney (POA)
There are different kinds including financial and healthcare power of attorney. You may have a durable power of attorney or a non-durable power of attorney. In its simplest form, a power of attorney appoints someone as your agent, which gives them the power to make legal decisions for you, conduct business on behalf of you, and enter into contracts for you. You may wish to give a spouse this power so they can sign contracts or pay bills on your behalf as a convenience, or you may want to give someone the power to do specific acts in the situation that you become incapacitated. Most power of attorneys allows you to select which type of actions your agent (the recipient of a power of attorney) can take, such as only have the power to deal with real estate or your bank accounts. You may also simply give them the right to make all decisions and actions for you.
Power of Attorney is governed by state law and can have different restrictions and requirements depending on where you execute the document. Make sure to double-check your state’s requirements on eForms.
An estate plan will commonly be made up of some combination of the above documents. Each of the documents above can be purchased, filled out, and executed to give you a simple real estate plan without the help of an attorney. However, it is best to consult with an estate planning attorney to double-check your work, you have a lot of assets, or if you plan on trying to avoid probate.
Estate planning does not need to be expensive or time-consuming. All people should have a basic estate plan in place so that they can feel secure that their family will have a clear understanding of their goals and nothing is left up to interpretation.
The information provided does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal, accounting or tax advice; instead, all information, content, and materials available on this site are for general informational purposes only.