6 Most Important Estate Planning Documents

If you’re worried about your family’s future after your death, ensuring you have the proper estate planning documents in place is the best way to relieve this stress. With estate planning, you can ensure your wishes will be followed, and your family will have less to stress about after your passing.

Most Important Estate Planning Documents

You likely think of a Last Will and Testament when you think of estate planning. However, there are many other estate planning tools to help you reach your goals. The estate planning process doesn’t need to be complicated, and a few basic documents can make all the difference. Below you will find five documents that everyone should have:

Financial Power of Attorney: In the event of incapacity, a Financial Power of Attorney appoints someone to take charge of your financial affairs and other legal matters. If you don’t have this document and become incapacitated for a significant period of time, your finances could become extremely disorganized, causing a burden for your family. In addition, they may have to petition the court to become your conservator, which can become costly and timely. All of these unwanted scenarios can be avoided by using a Financial Power of Attorney.

Medical Power of Attorney: A Medical Power of Attorney is similar to a Financial Power of Attorney, except the person who is appointed is in charge of making medical decisions on your behalf in the event of your incapacity. If you don’t have the document, your family will be forced to petition the court for guardianship to make medical decisions on your behalf. Again, this can be costly and time-consuming, so it’s better to have the document in place beforehand.

Living Will: A Living Will is used for medical decisions regarding your end-of-life care. For example, suppose you are terminally ill, in the late stages of dementia, or overall at the end of your life. In that case, this document directs your Medical Power of Attorney as to what treatments you would and would not like to receive. These treatments include CPR, tube feeding, mechanical respiration, and more.

HIPAA Waiver: Though your Medical Power of Attorney allows your agent to handle your medical matters, only one person may serve as an agent at a time. Because of this, it’s essential that everyone in your family can communicate with your doctors, not just the agent you appointed. A HIPAA waiver will allow your doctors and other medical professionals to share your information with anyone you name.

Last Will and Testament (“Will” ): A Will states who you wish to receive your property after death. However, Wills have become less relevant because there are many ways to pass property to your loved ones without the need for probate court. This can be done through beneficiary designations, joint ownership, or even a Trust. On the other hand, a Will is still important for two primary reasons. One, a Will allows you to name a guardian for minor children. In the event that you and your spouse pass away without a Will and have minor children, then the court must appoint a guardian to care for them. Two, you may name a personal representative to manage your estate after your passing. You should choose who serves these roles because, in the end, it may not be someone you would have approved of.

Revocable Trust: A Revocable Trust, or Living Trust, avoids probate court, is private, and provides more protection for your family. You may begin by creating a Trust, funding the Trust, and naming a Successor Trustee to manage your affairs and make distributions after your passing. Drafting a Trust is a bit more complex than drafting the other documents previously mentioned because of the amount of flexibility a Trust provides.

To begin drafting your estate plan, you should consult with an experienced estate planning attorney.

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