Many people think that they’re prepared for the unexpected just because they have a will. But a complete estate plan—one that provides needed guidance to your family and friends—is much more than just a will.
Depending on your needs, your estate plan could also include a trust, health care directive or power of attorney. You may also think about providing additional information about yourself that could be useful during a health emergency or in the event of your death.
At White & Associates, we encourage our clients to talk with us about their complete estate planning needs. We hope that this blog post will help you begin thinking about yours.
Wills and Living Trusts
Wills and living trusts offer the ability to distribute your assets after you pass away. Living trusts are especially useful when you have complex assets, including out-of-state real estate or a family-owned business. There are pros and cons to each, so it’s best to talk about your options with an experienced estate planning attorney.
Health Care Directives
Health care directives are written documents that inform others of your health care wishes. The document allows you to name someone (or a few people) to make decisions for you in the event that you are unable to communicate your wishes. It gives those people and your healthcare provider guidance regarding what actions to take.
So how do you choose a person to make those decisions? It should be someone you trust, someone who has the ability to make tough choices, like when care should be discontinued. Choose someone who knows you and who you can communicate with openly and honestly about your wishes.
Make sure that the person has a copy of your health care directive, that your doctor does as well, and keep a copy of it for yourself. It’s important that the document be easy for people to find in the event of a medical emergency.
Power of Attorney
Powers of attorney are granted to a trusted friend, relative or professional so that the person can take care of your finances. You can choose the same person you named in your health care directive, but you might not want to. The skills needed to effectively manage your finances are different than those needed to make important health care decisions. We recommend choosing someone who is responsible, diligent and detail-oriented.
Other Information and Documents
The legal documents listed above are often not enough to give your loved ones complete guidance about your affairs. You might also consider collecting and sharing information such as:
- Your medical history
- Passwords and logins for your online accounts
- Military discharge papers
- Details of burial arrangements, if you’ve made them
- Locations of important objects
- Tax documents, in case of an audit
- Companies authorized to automatically deduct payments from your bank account
- Instructions about alarms, sprinklers and other household systems
- Letters for the people you love
This information can help your family members and trusted friends in the event that you become incapacitated or pass away. It will help them take care of your house, manage your financial affairs, plan a funeral, or handle unexpected events such as an IRS audit.
Leaving additional documents for your loved ones can also make a huge difference during a difficult time. For example, a letter with love and guidance can become a cherished keepsake. Your loved one may not read it for years, but you’ll gain peace of mind knowing that you have done everything possible to ease the burden on them in the event of the unexpected.