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Planning is an important aspect of every part of our lives, and end-of-life planning is essential for your descendants. How will you preserve your assets from estate taxes and probate fees? How will you ensure distribution according to your wishes? Who will make financial and medical decisions for you, should you be incapacitated? By taking measures in advance, you have greater influence over the answers to these questions.
Two of the most common estate planning tools, wills and trusts allow you to clearly define how you would like your property to be distributed—and they reach far beyond that. A will enables you to determine the distribution of your property and affords you the opportunity to nominate your executor as well as guardians for your minor children. Failure to make such designations puts the future of your assets, and possibly your loved ones, in the hands of the courts. Property distributed through your will is subject to probate, which can be time-consuming and costly.
Trusts are established legal entities. Like a will, a trust spells out the distribution of your property, and additionally allow you to customize the distribution of your estate with the added advantage of avoiding property management and probate. Wills and trusts are not mutually exclusive, and those who engage a trust should also establish a will.
Your financial wellbeing could be threatened by your incapacity just as easily as death. A durable power of attorney is a tool which allows you to anticipate and avoid this threat. The legal agreement circumvents the need for a conservatorship and enables you to designate the legal and financial decisionmaker should you be incapacitated. Unlike the standard power of attorney, durable powers remain valid if you are incapacitated.
Similar to the durable power of attorney, a health care proxy is a legal designation given to a trusted person in the event of your incapacity. The designated individual can generally make decisions regarding medical facilities, treatments and surgical procedures, as well as other healthcare concerns. Similar to the durable power of attorney, a health care proxy involves important decisions, so choose wisely.
The living will, also known as a directive to physicians or healthcare directive, outlines the life-sustaining treatment you permit in the event of incapacity. The directive creates an agreement between you as the patient and the attending physician. The decision for or against life support is one only you can make, which makes the living will a valuable estate planning tool. You may use a living will in conjunction with a durable health care power of attorney.
The laws governing the recognition and treatment of living wills may vary from state to state.
Maintain all important financial and legal information in a central file for your executor. Be sure to include the following:
Our first priority is helping you take care of yourself and your family. We want to learn more about your personal situation, identify your dreams and goals, and understand your tolerance for risk. Long-term relationships that encourage open and honest communication have been the cornerstone of my foundation of success.
This information is not intended to be a substitute for individualized legal advice. Please consult your legal advisor regarding your specific situation.