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Why You Shouldn’t Wait to Organize These Key Documents in Estate Planning

Handling a loved one’s end-of-life affairs can be an incredibly challenging responsibility, especially if the departed left no clear instructions about what they wanted to happen to their property after they died. If you have ever experienced the probate process, you know that it can be difficult for any family. It’s not uncommon for heated arguments to erupt between family members during probate proceedings.

To eliminate uncertainty for your family and make your last wishes as clear and legally enforceable as possible, it’s a good idea to have a few key documents arranged as soon as possible. Your estate planning attorney can walk you through the specifics of what you need for your individual situation. There are a few key considerations that every estate holder must make.

Will

A Will is a legal document that outlines your wishes as far as property disbursement is concerned upon your death. A Will, if drafted properly, can provide reassurance to anyone by naming an individual responsible for the Will writer’s affairs. They have a duty to follow the instructions included in the will to disburse the Will writer’s property and assets. If you do not have a will in place, your affairs will likely enter the probate process for intestate succession after death. State law will dictate how your remaining debts are settled and how property is disbursed.

Ultimately, a Will offers peace of mind and control over your affairs after your death. An experienced estate planning attorney can help you develop a comprehensive Will that covers as many eventualities as possible. The more detailed your Will is, the less uncertainty your family will experience when they must settle your affairs after your death.

Living Will and Medical Power of Attorney

While a Will outlines your wishes for the distribution of your property after your death, a Living Will outlines your preferences for handling end-of-life decisions, answering questions about the termination of life support, and similar medical issues. For example, if you become ill and fall unresponsive, your Living Will should dictate how you would like medical staff to proceed. You can include directions to keep you alive for as long as possible using whatever means necessary or designate a specific point at which you prefer caregivers to terminate life-sustaining care and transition to palliative care.

A Living Will should also designate an individual to assume medical power of attorney. If the writer of the Living Will becomes incapacitated, the medical power of attorney allows the personal representative to manage the writer’s affairs and make final decisions concerning the writer’s medical care. The holder of the medical power of attorney should adhere to the instructions set forth by the Living Will in handling their responsibilities.

Revocable Living Trust and Financial Power of Attorney

Similar to a Will, a Revocable Living Trust includes your direction for the disbursing of your property after your death. However, it allows you to retain control over your assets until you die by appointing a trustee. This trustee will assume ownership rights and act in your stead according to your wishes upon your death. This means your loved ones can all but entirely avoid the probate process. Some issues may still require clarification through probate proceedings, but a Revocable Living Will essentially designates a personal representative with authority to act on your behalf after your death.

Within your Living Trust, you should also designate the individual who will hold financial power of attorney on your behalf should you become incapacitated. In many cases, this individual is also the trustee of the Revocable Living Trust, but this may not be the case for your situation. The holder of financial power of attorney has the right to make final financial decisions on behalf of the trustor.

Designated Beneficiary Accounts

Arranging these accounts in advance can ensure your beneficiaries receive their disbursements from your estate uninterrupted by any other parties. You can designate beneficiaries on various assets such as life insurance policies, retirement savings accounts, annuity accounts, and pensions in your name. Having these in place is a great way to streamline probate for your loved ones. However, you must ensure that if you have any specific instructions about beneficiaries’ rights in your Will or Trust, they should not conflict with existing beneficiary designations on your accounts.

Basic Personal Documents

It’s wise to have a safe collection of critical paperwork, such as birth certificates, Social Security cards, military discharge forms, professional certifications, marriage license, divorce decrees, and several years’ worth of tax return documentation. These records can help to streamline the process of handling your affairs after your death. Make sure your personal representative or spouse knows the location of these documents.

Ultimately, if you have specific questions about the best options for your end-of-life affairs, it’s a good idea to meet with an experienced Sacramento estate planning attorney as soon as possible. Your attorney can provide specific insights into your case and help you better understand your legal options.