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Legal Documents for Estate Planning

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  • Will is a document which provides instructions to how you want your assets, property, possessions distributed to loved ones upon your death through the probate process(1). If you have minor children, this is where you name the guardian for them. Will is very individualized document and can be simple or have complex planning provisions depending on the person’s circumstance or situation. Many individuals and families also have a Revocable Living Trust in addition to the Will. Revocable Living Trust is an estate planning tool that you can use to determine who will get your property when you die. By transferring assets into a revocable living trust, you can provide for continued management of your financial affairs if you are incapacitated or upon your death. Assets held in a revocable trust avoid probate.
  • Living Will or Advance Health Care Directive is a document which expresses your preferences regarding treatment if you’re faced with a serious accident or illness. This legal document specifically states the types of medical treatments and life-sustaining measures you want and don’t want, such as mechanical breathing (respiration and ventilation), tube feeding or resuscitation. Living wills and other advance Health Care Directives aren’t just for older adults. Unexpected end-of-life situations can happen at any age, so it’s important for all adults to have Living Will or Advance Health Care Directive in place. This document expresses what you want but does not give anyone the authority to speak for you if you are incapacitated.
  • Health Care Power of Attorney (Health Care Proxy) provides authority for someone to make health care decisions on your behalf in the event you are unable to make them. This document, as well as a living will, is extremely important to be in place if you become unable to make your health care decisions for yourself. Family conflicts and potential court intervention can be avoided if you have both the Living Will/Health Care Directive and Health Care Power of Attorney prepared or put in place.
  • Durable Power of Attorney provides authority for someone to assume responsibility for managing financial matters like on your behalf if you become incapacitated or unable to physically or mentally handle your affairs. This document is important, as it will allow a person of your choosing to sell, invest, spend and otherwise manage your finances for specific times identified in the document. In the event you are incapacitated, and are unable to manage your financial affairs, the Durable Power of Attorney will allow another individual to handle your financial issues, without the need to request permission from the Court.
  • Guardianship of Minor Children. If you have minor children and something unforeseeable happens to both parents it is important to have documents in place so your minor children are taken care of financially, emotionally and physically.

(1) Probate is the process of getting property/assets from someone who dies to where it is supposed to go when there is no written instructions/Will. When there is no Will the state’s law dictates how the property will be distributed. Wills do not avoid probate. A Will is a set of instructions to the probate court. A Will must be admitted to probate before a Court will allow the distribution of a decedent’s (dead person) property to heirs according to the Will’s terms.

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