Estate planning basics

family looking over papers

Estate planning doesn’t have to be complicated and you don’t need to be wealthy to need a plan. Simply, an estate plan is a way to provide written, legal directions to your loved ones who may need to distribute your assets after death, or who may need to make health care decisions on your behalf if you’re unable to do so.  These are important decisions it’s best not to leave undocumented. Depending on your needs, here are the documents you may want to include in your estate plan.

Documents to help in times of illness

Putting a written plan in place detailing your wishes can give you peace of mind. That said, there are several key documents you’ll need.

Durable power of attorney. Appoint someone you trust to have the authority to pay your bills or manage your finances if your doctor says you can’t handle these responsibilities any longer. The durable power of attorney is active as long as you’re sick.

Living will. This is also called a declaration of a desire for a natural death. It allows you to specify whether you want your life prolonged by artificial means if there is no reasonable hope for recovery. This document is limited to withholding life support. Having this information in place takes the burden off of your loved ones for making this difficult decision.

Health care power of attorney. More detailed than a living will, use this document to name someone to make medical decisions for you if you’re unable to speak for yourself. The individual you name is known as the attorney-in-fact. Your appointed person will work with your health care providers to manage your care and carry out your wishes regarding medical treatment and procedures.

Documents to help with final wishes

Will. This is also known as a last will and testament. Here, you can detail your final wishes for all your assets (e.g., home, car, jewelry, collectibles). Most importantly, if you have minor children or disabled adult children, you can name a guardian for them. You can also make arrangements for your pets. With advance planning, you may be able to help reduce any debts and taxes that may need to be paid after your death.

Letter of last instruction. In addition to your will, it’s a good idea to write a letter of last instruction. This is a simple way to tell your loved ones where they can find any important items and documents you have in safekeeping. It also gives you the opportunity to provide any specific burial instructions you may have.

These documents generally form the basis of your estate plan. But, estate planning is not a one and done activity. It’s important to update your estate plan as your needs change. The plan you start with now may be much simpler than the plan you may need later in life. Call or visit your local branch to get help with creating your estate plan.

The advice provided is for informational purposes only. Contact an attorney for additional guidance.

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