Estate Essentials

Will. Will. Won’t.
I should make a Will. I will make a Will. But most people don’t.
Much of life is spent avoiding the obvious – you are going to die. Your loved ones are going to die.
You know this. But we all avoid this. How morbid, how depressing, how easy to put this off. We are great procrastinators, after all. Most people have not made a will. But in today’s world, a will is not enough.
We face choices and options for end of life care and estate planning and a will is not enough anymore. Please review this list and see how prepared you are:
1 A Will.
The Will is a legally binding document that dictates who will get what of what is left behind. You can provide for your family, your pets, your remains. Your Will permits you to decide who will distribute your assets to your loved ones, raise your children and pay your final bills and taxes. Your Will permits you to make several decisions. But, your Will does not become effective until you die. It has no legal impact if you are incapacitated for any reason and has no role in taking care of you or loved ones while you are living. For that, you need a Durable Power of Attorney.
2. Durable Power of Attorney.
Think of the document as appointing someone to be your business manager if you become incapacitated before death, even if you can and will make a full recovery. Someone has to pay the bills, manage finances and make sure insurance and other issues are addressed. Each state has a form and a process for this. You can make this as broad as you want (good till your life is done, can do anything you can do) or narrowly (only until I am through physical therapy, can handle bank accounts but not sell my house). While the forms are fairly simple, their legal and financial impact can be quite complex so consultation with an attorney may be advised.
3. A power of attorney for health care (living will).
A health-care power of attorney 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 is necessary to avoid family conflicts and even court intervention should you become unable to make your own health care decisions.
4. A Living Will.
A Living Will has nothing to do with what we consider a “Will”. I hate using this term because it is misleading and confusing, but it has entered the lexicon and healthcare professionals use it frequently, so I will use it here. A Living Will is a document that states your wishes regarding life-sustaining measures when you have a terminal illness, gravely wounded or are in some form of a health crisis. This document will outline whether you want to be resuscitated, or put into effect a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR); and provides guidance on the use of other life prolonging technology and medical treatment. Unlike a Will or a Power of Attorney for Healthcare; a Living Will is not legally binding on others. Also, unlike a Will or a Power of Attorney for Healthcare; a Living Will does not give anyone any authority to do anything at all. It is a document that states your wishes. Unless it is used with a properly executed Power of Attorney for Healthcare, this document does not provide that your wishes will be honored.
5. A Revocable Living Trust.
This form of a Trust will allow you to manage, transfer, distribute or invest assets while you are alive. Upon your death, the Trust becomes a non-probate assets and passes to the named beneficiaries without needing to proceed through court. These Trusts provide several tax benefits to the estate as well. Trusts can be comprehensive or discrete, such as a Trust for Education; Animal (Pet) Trusts to provide for a beloved pet (your pet parrot will most likely outlive you), Marital Trusts, Charitable Trusts, Testamentary Trusts and several others. Unlike a Will, Trusts are not filed with the court and do not become a public record; preserving your and your family’s privacy.
6. Inventory of Assets and Accounts.
There are several ledgers, software programs and other means of documenting your assets. Do not forget to include Stocks, Digital Assets, Safety Deposit Boxes and other items that might not be known by a glance through your home.
7 Final Words.
Either via a “legacy letter” or a video recording, this is your chance to speak to the future. Describe your reasons for passing a certain item to a certain person; tell a family story of a favorite piece of jewelry; share values, express hopes and wishes to your future generations.
8. Memorial Plans and Burial or Cremation Plans.
At a time of grief, help your family avoid the burden of making choices of burial or cremation, and avoid disputes on where ashes should be stored. Select music or poems, and any other wishes.
9. Guardianship Papers.
Often included in the Will for Children but often overlooked for Pets. Consider doing this as a separate Animal Trust that become effective immediately upon your death; rather than including it in a will. In the case of a long probate or a dispute over the will, any funds designated to care for your pets will be held up by probate.