3 Vital Estate Planning Documents You Should Put in Place

Last will and testament estate planning documentIn the movies, estate planning consisted of the stereotypical reading of one document, with a feeling of foreboding and a heavy voice reading the will.  In reality, however, estate planning is about more than spelling out who gets your good china; an estate plan consists of a collection of documents that can speak for you when you physically can’t.  Everyone’s estate plan is different based on their circumstances, but there are a few essential documents that should be included—but not limited to. Ask your attorney for the specific legal documents necessary to your situation.

Will 

Many think of a will as a catch-all document with stipulations for almost any situation; actually, a will’s only purpose is to dictate the distribution of your assets when you die.  This is done by an executor who is named in your will.  Your executor carries out all your stipulations and settle your affairs, so choose this party carefully (and follow these other tips for a solid will).

A will contains a list all your assets, a guardian for any minors in your care (if applicable), and list of beneficiaries of your assets (people or organizations that receive items or funds).  After your death, your will is subject to probate, which is the legal proving of the will.  Probate can take anywhere from a few months to a year.

Power of Attorney

Your Power of Attorney document spells out the party (any friend, relative, spouse, etc.) who is responsible for all your legal and financial matters if you can’t.  Choose this person carefully; he or she can invest and use your funds for (almost) whatever purpose they deem necessary.  Even if you have a living trust, a Power of Attorney is still needed for anything not included in your trust.  Your Power of Attorney is in effect until your death.

If you do not have a Power of Attorney in place, a court-appointed guardian or conservator is appointed.  This option can be expensive and complex.

Healthcare Power of Attorney

A Healthcare Power of Attorney document serves the same purpose as the Power of Attorney, only in a more limited scope.  Your Healthcare Power of Attorney acts on your behalf while you are incapacitated, but only on healthcare decisions. An advanced medical directive, a companion document, is also helpful to fill out detailing your wishes, such as whether you want to be placed on a ventilator.

Other documents…

Depending on your situation, your attorney may also suggest other legal estate planning documents, such as a living trust.  In addition to legal estate planning documents, consider filling out funeral planning documents so your wishes are known to your family and friends.

The materials on this website are provided for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. These materials are intended, but not promised or guaranteed to be current, complete, or up-to-date and should in no way be taken as an indication of future results. Transmission of the information is not intended to create, and the receipt does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship between sender and receiver. You should not act or rely on any information contained in this website without first seeking the advice of an attorney.

10 Tips for Writing a Will

Estate planning worksheet for writing a willEveryone has a story about a family they know divided because a parent or family member did not have an estate plan in place.  If you want to prevent that story from being about your family, it’s imperative to initiate your estate planning, including a will.  Getting the process of preparing and drafting a legal document accomplished is not a difficult process, but it’s helpful to understand the basics of preparing a will that prevents that story of family drama from happening to your family.

Don’t procrastinate.

There are a lot of emotions that accompany the process of drafting a will.  Don’t let your feelings get in the way of writing your will.  Start inventorying assets, collecting documents, creating lists, and having important discussions about beneficiaries, executors, and what assets you want passed on.

Know the terms used in drafting your will.

Because a will is a legal document, there are a lot of terms to understand when preparing your will.  Here are a few basic terms used in almost every will:

Beneficiary-heir(s) (family members, friends, associates, organizations) that receive assets specified in your will

Executor-party that ensures that all the terms of your will are carried out

Guardian-person(s) that is going to care for your kids

Make sure it’s legal.

A worthless will can cause more problems for your heirs, including financial costs.  For that reason, choose the author of your will carefully. Selecting an experienced lawyer not only ensures that your assets are distributed in the manner you want, but also has the expertise to recommend any other legal documents that need to be in place for estate planning and any related situations that could arise.

Don’t make any assumptions.

Leave nothing to chance when drafting your will.  Be specific as possible; carefully detail every wish, every item that you want passed on, every beneficiary (and a back-up if your beneficiary is unable to receive the item), and any other preferences about your estate.  For example, if you want your nephew to have your prized model trains, carefully list every item from your collection in your will.

Keep it updated.

A will is not a static document to be tucked away and collect dust.  Update your will when you add more members to your family, marriage circumstances change, death of a beneficiary, significant changes in assets, etc.

Keep it safe.

If you put your will in a safe deposit box, no matter how legally sound, you can make the process more costly and complicated for your family.  Your family may have to get a court order to gain access to the safe deposit box.  Instead, choose a fireproof, protected container for your document.   You’ve gone through all the work to draft a sound will to make it easier for your family; finding a safe location ensures that your will is accessible when the time comes—and can do everything you specified.

The materials on this website are provided for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. These materials are intended, but not promised or guaranteed to be current, complete, or up-to-date and should in no way be taken as an indication of future results. Transmission of the information is not intended to create, and the receipt does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship between sender and receiver. You should not act or rely on any information contained in this website without first seeking the advice of an attorney.