There are eight estate planning essentials that can help you get your affairs in order. According to msn.com’s recent article entitled “8 Documents That Are Essential to Planning Your Estate,” if that sounds like a lot of work, know that you may not need every document. Ask an experienced estate planning attorney about what is wise for your situation.
- Will. A will states what will happen to your assets and designates an executor who will be in charge of following your directions. Your will can also nominate guardians for those under your care, including minor children. When it comes to pets, many states allow you to provide assets for their care. Without a will, a probate court will name an executor for your estate.
- Revocable Living Trust. A living trust is another tool for passing assets to heirs, while avoiding potentially expensive and time-consuming probate proceedings. You designate a trustee who will manage the property placed in the trust. Unlike a will, a trust can be used to distribute property now or after your death.
- Up-to-Date Beneficiary Designations. When you purchase life insurance or open a retirement plan or bank account, you typically must name a beneficiary, who is the person you want to inherit the proceeds when you die. These designations take precedence over instructions in a will. Be sure to review and update these designations, when your life changes.
- Durable Power of Attorney. A power of attorney lets you to appoint an individual to act on your behalf, financially and legally, if you are unable to make decisions.
- Health Care Power of Attorney and a Living Will. To be certain that someone can make medical decisions for you if you become incapacitated, ask an experienced estate planning attorney to help you draft a health care power of attorney, which is also known as a durable health care power of attorney or health care proxy. This is unlike a durable power of attorney discussed above for financial and legal affairs. A living will enables you to explain in advance of death what types of care you do and do not want if you cannot communicate your wishes. This document states your health care preferences and is totally different from a conventional will or living trust, which deals with property.
- Digital Asset Trust. You can use a digital asset trust to determine what to do with your electronic property, including your computer hard drive, digital photos, information stored in the cloud and online accounts. Create a separate list of your passwords.
- Letter of Intent. If you want to leave any instructions, requests, or important personal or financial information that does not belong in your will, write a letter of intent or a letter of last instruction. This letter can state your wishes for things you hope will be done, such as instructions about how you want your funeral or memorial service to be performed. This letter does not have the legal weight of a will.
- A List of Important Documents. Make certain your family can locate everything that you have prepared. Make a list of documents, including where each is stored. This should include the following:
- Birth and adoption certificates
- Life insurance policies
- Annuities, pension or retirement accounts
- Bank accounts
- Real estate deeds; and
- Stocks, bonds and mutual funds.
It is also helpful for your heirs to include a list of bills and accounts, including contact information and account numbers for each one, so your executor can settle and close these accounts.