A basic guide to estate planning
By David Buice
Whatever else may be said about it, the pandemic has made us aware of our mortality and the need to make proper arrangements for ourselves and our loved ones through estate planning, should the worst happen. Estate planning does not always have to be a complicated process. For most of us, a few vital documents will ensure that a sad situation is not made worse by prolonged legal controversies.
Basic Estate Planning Documents
Even a young person in their 20s just starting their career needs a will stating how their assets should be distributed and to whom. If you die intestate — without a will — your estate will be distributed according to the intestate laws of your state. These laws are typically designed to reflect what the deceased would most likely prefer to happen, but there’s no guarantee the distribution of your assets will reflect your personal wishes.
If you have minor children or plan to have children, your will should contain a guardianship clause naming the personal guardian(s)who will care for your children if you no longer can. Your will also enables you to name a guardian for your child’s finances, who may be the same individual as the personal guardian or someone different.
Durable Power of Attorney
This document gives a trusted person authority to handle your finances and property if you become incapacitated and unable to handle your own affairs. This person is called your agent or attorney-in-fact, but they do not have to be an actual attorney.
Medical Power of Attorney
This document names an agent to oversee your medical treatment if you cannot do so and work with your doctors and other health care providers to make sure you get the kind of medical treatment you desire. Your designated agent is legally bound to follow your directives to the extent they know them. In preparing your powers of attorney, you can name one agent for both or one for each document. If you designate two agents, they must be able to work together amicably when making decisions on your behalf.
Health Care Directive
Also known as a living will or Texas Directive to Physicians, this document becomes important if you are terminally ill or in a persistent vegetative state and unable to communicate your wishes about medications and life-prolonging procedures. It clearly states the medications and procedures you want, or don’t want, to prolong your life.
People often have both a living will and medical power of attorney to ensure they receive the medical treatment they desire. Today you can find online templates enabling you to prepare these documents yourself, but not all are equal in quality, and even the best of them cannot provide the personalized guidance of an experienced estate attorney. Additionally, you might overlook significant issues because of your lack of understanding of all the details involved in estate planning.
While your estate plan doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive, a comprehensive plan drawn up with professional legal assistance will ensure that the people who mean the most to you are adequately cared for when you’re no longer here.