Estate planning is the way to determine what happens to you and your property when you can no longer make decisions due to incapacity or death. Without an estate plan, you stand to make a tough process even tougher for your loved ones. If you don't have a plan, it can delay your medical care if you become incapacitated and make it more difficult to pass your wealth to your heirs when you die.
Make sure to state your wishes in the proper estate-planning documents. To complete these, consult with an estate planning attorney and keep the originals in a safe deposit box with a copy at home or on your computer. Some folk have their attorney hang on to the originals.
Nerd Wallet's article, "10 Keys to Proper Estate Planning," reminds us of the four key legal documents you should have in place, plus an additional one you might want to consider.
An advance health care directive indicates your healthcare choices and is used only when you are unable to communicate your wishes. Ask your estate planning attorney about the one specific to your state.
A power of attorney for finances lets you designate an individual to manage your financial affairs in the event you become incapacitated. If you fail to complete this form and you need help, a judge may appoint someone for you.
A HIPAA release form lets those named in your advance health care directive and your power of attorney access your healthcare information to work on insurance issues if you are unable to yourself.
A Will allows your assets to be transferred as you've designated upon your death.
A living trust is another way to transfer property upon your death, which can be more confidential, faster, and more flexible than probate. With a living trust, your wishes may be less likely to be contested than with a probated Will. A trust is an option, but it depends on your assets and your state laws. Even if you have a trust, you still need to have a Will.
Not having an estate plan can be time-consuming, stressful, and costly for your heirs. Your estate will have to go through the probate process. There's also a good chance that your property won't be distributed as you wanted. Take action to create a carefully considered estate plan to help make sure your wishes are met and to make it easier on your family.
Reference: Nerd Wallet (March 11, 2016) "10 Keys to Proper Estate Planning"