Five Essential Documents for Estate Planning
Everybody understands what a will is: a document outlining your wishes for distributing your property after you are gone. But a will may not go far enough to settle all potential issues that may arise, such as providing for loved ones with special needs, attending to healthcare and end-of-life wishes and managing finances upon incapacity. A comprehensive estate plan should include these vital documents:
1. Last will and testament
A will is a necessity, if for no other reason than to name an executor to take charge of carrying out your express wishes. A will can bequeath specified assets, set forth conditions for property transfers and describe what to do when contingencies arise. Perhaps most importantly, a will directs disposition of your residuary estate, which is any property left over after all transfers are made and all debts are paid.
2. Living trust
A trust is a legal transfer of property to another entity with instructions to act in the interests of specified beneficiaries. A living trust (one made while you’re alive) can be revocable, allowing you to maintain control during your lifetime, or irrevocable, permanently placing the property out of your hands. Unlike a will, a trust does not have to go through probate after your death. You can serve as trustee during your lifetime and, once you are deceased or even disabled, another designated trustee takes over.
3. Advance directive and healthcare power of attorney
An advance directive, also known as a living will, is a document that outlines your desires with regard to end-of-life measures, such as if you are stricken with severe dementia or are in a persistent vegetative state. If you don’t lay out directions, you’ll be putting a friend or relative in the position of having to make that decision alone. A related document is a healthcare power of attorney, which appoints a proxy or surrogate to make healthcare decisions, such as arranging for nursing home or hospice care.
4. Financial power of attorney
We do not all go gently into that good night. It is possible that you will linger on for months or longer under assisted care without the ability to manage your finances. That’s why it is vital to plan ahead for diminished capacity situations by appointing an agent to manage your finances. This is done through a durable power of attorney, which remains in effect during your incapacity.
5. HIPAA waiver
Federal law protects patient privacy, so doctors and other healthcare providers cannot discuss your medical condition with others. A HIPAA waiver spells out with whom these caregivers may speak freely about your condition. Typically, you’d include whoever is making healthcare or financial decisions on your behalf.
In addition to creating these crucial documents, it is important to keep records of your assets and debts, including bank account and investment statements. Put all of this in a secure place, alongside your other planning documents, where your estate representative can find them.