Creating your estate plan is an essential part of preparing for your retirement and your end-of-life plans, but many people do not even know where to start. Ensuring you have what you need for your estate plan will help to protect you and your loved ones from the legal and financial complications that can arise as you grow older, and after you pass away. Here are five things you should consider for your estate plan:
- A last will and testament
- Perhaps the most basic tool for estate planning is a last will and testament. This document lays out how you want your property to be distributed. When properly constructed, a will helps streamline the distribution of your estate and mitigates many of the potential pitfalls that can arise after someone has passed away without a will. Failure to sign a last will and testament means your estate passes by the rules of intestacy. These rules may not be appropriate or beneficial for your family’s needs.
- A power of attorney
- A power of attorney is an essential document for just about any estate plan, especially people who are getting older. A power of attorney grants another person the ability to make legal and financial decisions on your behalf, meaning they can do things like pay your bills, sign documents, and even potentially represent you in court if necessary. If you become incapacitated without having a power of attorney in place, your loved ones may be forced to seek a guardianship to ensure you are adequately cared for and your finances are taken care of.
- A healthcare proxy
- Another important tool for any estate plan is the healthcare proxy. Similar to a power of attorney, a healthcare proxy allows someone to make decisions on your behalf, but this document refers specifically to health care decisions. A healthcare proxy can be the same person as whoever holds your power of attorney, or they can be different people, but in both cases it is essential to ensure you are handing that authority to someone you trust to make medical decisions on your behalf if you become unable to make those decisions yourself.
- A living will
- A living will is a type of advance directive that indicates to others how you want to be cared for in the event that you become permanently incapable of making your own decisions about your health care. This often includes clauses such as a “Do Not Resuscitate” (DNR) order, which prevents a doctor from reviving someone whose heart or breathing has stopped, as well as a “Do Not Intubate” (DNI) order, which prevents a doctor from intubating someone. A living will can also be customized to address your wishes as to whether you want to receive or have withheld certain medical treatments, such as chemotherapy or being placed on a ventilator.
- A trust
- Trusts are a potentially versatile tool for any estate plan, and can be useful for people with complex estates. They can help to avoid complexity involved in probate if you have a wide variety of assets or have family members with special needs, and can also help to protect against taxes and debt collectors. However, to know if a trust might be good for your estate plan, you should speak to a lawyer with experience handling estate law matters.
The attorneys at the Law Offices of Hunziker, Jones, and Sweeney understand that the aging population has specific and diverse needs. The firm helps seniors and their families by handling all aspects of elder law including guardianships, end of life planning, asset preservation, Medicaid planning, and trusts and estates issues. If you need to consult on elder law issues, call The Law Offices of Hunziker, Jones & Sweeney at (973) 256-0456 or fill out our contact form for a consultation.