This guide provides an outline of the 4 essential documents that should be a part of every person's estate plan.
General Durable Power of Attorney: Appoint your attorney-in-fact
This is arguably the most important "foundational" document. A power of attorney will allow you to appoint an attorney-in-fact to act as you for all financial and legal matters. This will grant a trusted individual the power to handle your financial, business, and legal affairs if you are incompetent, incapacitated, or otherwise unable act for yourself. The "durability" component of the power means that it survives incompetency and incapacity (but not death). This means that your attorney-in-fact can exercise this power, even when you become incompetent. It goes without saying that the attorney-in-fact should be an individual that you trust unconditionally.
Lastly, make sure the document grants all the powers that your attorney-in-fact will need to act effectively and make sure that the document protects the attorney-in-fact from liability associated with his/her role as fiduciary.
Healthcare Power of Attorney: Appoint your attorney-in-fact
The healthcare attorney-in-fact will make healthcare decisions on your behalf when you are not able to do so yourself. This includes: general treatment, experimental treatment, diagnostic testing, and pain management. The attorney-in-fact will also have access to your medical records. You should appoint someone you trust and who can make difficult and informed decisions regarding your healthcare needs.
Consider Drafting a Living Will
This is a personal choice but it is an important document to consider. A living will is a declaration for your desire for natural death. This says that if you are being kept alive by artificial means, it is okay to let you go. This will absolve your family members and the hospital of the hard decision of whether to keep you on life support when there is a 0% chance that you could return to any quality of life. Note: this is not a "do not resuscitate" request. This only applies if you have no chance of returning to your life and, but for the machines keeping you alive, you would pass away.
Draft a Will
A will is the instruction manual by which you direct how your assets will be disposed upon your passing. First you will name who you would like to execute your wishes--this is your "executor". It can be any individual whom you trust and feel is up to the task. Then you will name your beneficiaries. These are the individuals who will receive your assets and legacy after you pass.
It is important that you anticipate future events in your will. For example, you should consider what will happen if your heirs pass away before you, if some of the property you specifically name in the will leaves your legal possession, or if the person you named as your executor renounces the position.
Lastly, it is important to ensure that your will is valid and self-proving. A valid will is one that is signed by the testator and at least two attesting witnesses. A self-proving will avoid the need for the witnesses to testify that the will is valid after your passing. A self-proving will has attached a notarized affidavit from the witnesses indicating that you (the testator) was of legal age, sound mind, and under no coercion, and that they witnessed you signing the will.
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