Many of us don't like to think about our estate planning, and procrastinate on the assumption that we always have later. However, no one knows when an emergency or disaster will occur and, if unprepared, we leave a heavy burden and expense for our families. Proper planning makes sure our loved ones are cared for, and ourselves too, in life's unforseen events. Each person should consider these four documents:
1. Last Will and Testament: A Will ensures that the wishes of the deceased are carried out. A Will essentially distributes personal property, real property, and monies to the intended beneficiaries. A Will protects items of family heritage or sentimental value from being sold in the estate administration process. It is only by making a Will that you choose who acts as your Personal Representative to take charge of your estate and distribute it according to your wishes. A Will also allows you to appoint a guardian of any dependent children so they will be cared for by the people you trust. A properly prepared Will will make estate administration easier for your family to deal with. In some situations, it is preferable to set up a Trust. We can help you decide which is best.
In the past ten years, the State of Washington and the federal government have radically changed their estate tax laws and so a review of everyone's situation is important. Other changes in a person's life also call for revising your Will or Trust. Examples of such changes are marriage, divorce, death of a family member, acquiring new assets, or simply rethinking what you want to leave to whom. If you think your estate plan needs to be reviewed, call our office to schedule an appointment.
2. Letter of Instruction: A letter of instruction is not a formal legal document and is something that you can prepare on your own. The letter is a list of helpful instructions for people to follow when you are sick or have died. Helpful information is: a) locations of legal documents; b) contact list of names and phone numbers of close family members; c) funeral and burial or cremation instructions; d) preferred hospital and name of family doctor; e) current list of assets and debts; f) list of insurance policies; and g) locations of investment account statements, deeds to property and tax returns. More and more, people are also using these letters as a final personal message to family and friends.
3. Living Will: A living will directs what you want to occur if you are terminally ill and unable to speak for yourself. The living will instructs doctors whether to use artificial means (including hydration and nutrition) if you wish to keep the body alive. Directing the removal of artificial life support takes this difficult decision off your loved ones' conscience.
4. Power of Attorney: A power of attorney allows your spouse, parent, or another person to act for you in your behalf to make decisions, sign documents, and carry out other important acts when you aren't able to. Severe incapacity can strike any of us at any time. If a person has not appointed an attorney-in-fact through a power of attorney, no one can handle your affairs. It is then necessary to petition a court to be appointed as guardian, which in itself is an expensive process and entails ongoing future expense due to regular court reportings. By signing a power of attorney prior to incapacity, a guardianship proceeding can usually be avoided and the attorney-in-fact can act on behalf of the incapacitated person in a private, confidential manner.
We welcome the opportunity to help with your estate planning.
Call our office today!