When you hear the word “estate,” you might think of large tracts of land and expensive property left by wealthy people after their passing. The truth is that anyone who wants to leave something behind for their loved ones or has any preferences on how his or her end-of-life decisions should be handled will benefit from an estate plan. Although it may make you uncomfortable dealing with issues that have to do with the end of your life, the best time for you to broach these subjects is when you are of sound mind and body. Every estate is different, yet there are a handful of legal instruments that are crucial to any solid estate plan.
Last Will and Testament
A Will is probably the most widely known estate-planning document. Your last will and testament lays out how you want your property and other assets divided after you pass away. How you divide your belongings is up to you; many people elect to give money and other liquid assets to their children or spouse after they die. These recipients, which can also include friends and distant relatives, are referred to as beneficiaries. A common tool used in Wills is to appoint an executor, which is someone you trust and empower to distribute items in your estate according to your wishes.
This legal document is an important tool for people who have preferences on the medical care they will receive if they become seriously ill. In this form, you may give someone the power of attorney to allow or refuse specific health actions for you. You may also provide guidance regarding those specific medical actions, such as by signing a do-not-resuscitate (DNR) order. Another part of a healthcare directive can address your wishes on organ donation. Depending on your situation, your healthcare directive can be incorporated into a Living Will.
The most common type of trust is a living trust. A living trust is a document in which you, the trustor, place property and assets from your estate for eventual distribution by a trustee. An additional feature of living trusts is that it allows your trustee to take control of your estate if you merely become incapacitated, meaning you no longer have the ability to make important financial and medical decisions. A trust can be either revocable or irrevocable; this is an important distinction and should be fully understood during creation of the trust.
It is worth restating that no matter your age, health, or net worth, you should have a properly constructed estate plan. Without one, you risk having decisions made about your health and prized possessions that go against your wishes. You also risk forcing your loved ones litigate your estate in probate court after your death, which will cost a great amount of time and money.
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