In uncertain times like these, we need to plan for the future as best we can. This means not just planning for families and careers, but also planning to dispose of our assets and provide for our loved ones upon our death. Estate planning can seem complicated legally, but relatively simple for most people.
The first question is about relationships: who are your family members and loved ones? Do you have minor children? Do you have any legal dependents?
The second question is about your assets: what assets do you own? How do you want your assets to be passed upon your death?
The third question is about your end of life healthcare decisions: what care do you want to receive to prolong or end your life? Who do you want to make or enforce those decisions?
A very important purpose of a will is to express wishes as a parent for the care of your children (or adult dependents) should you predecease them. Having a plan for who will care for your minor children or adult dependents upon the death of the parents will give you peace of mind and ensure that this critical and life-altering decision is addressed promptly and with as few hurdles as possible.
A will provides a means to pass on your assets after you die. Assets such as cars, jewelry, and individual bank and investment accounts pass to heirs based on the terms in a will.
Assets that are jointly owned with another person (common examples are a home or a bank account) pass outside of the will. This means that those assets will pass not by the will, but instead will go directly, by operation of law, to the surviving joint owner. Still, a will is very important for passing on joint property after the death of the second joint owner.
A power of attorney document authorizes others whom you designate to act on your behalf in financial and daily life matters in the event you become incapacitated. The agent under the power of attorney has the authority to make decisions on yours most things involving your assets.
Another important estate planning tool is an advanced directive. This document tells the hospital and doctors what medical care you would like to receive, or not receive, at the end of your life.
A related document, a healthcare power of attorney, authorize others whom you designate to act on your behalf in medical matters in the event you become incapacitated.
These are the most important estate planning tools for most people. You should also consider whether there are any other special circumstances that need to be addressed including business succession planning for owners of businesses as well as tax planning. A frank discussion with a knowledgeable estate planning attorney can guide you toward additional estate planning tools if your circumstances require them.
Most of all, you need qualified and affordable counsel to assist you in these matters.