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What Are the Key Documents in Estate Planning?


Estate planning may seem like a tedious task, regardless of the size of one’s estate. It is also a chore that many individuals don’t want to tend to, as it means facing the certainty that we must all leave this world one day. With some careful preparation, however, this can be done rather easily. Not only does planning for the distribution of your assets give you peace of mind, but it makes things much easier on your loved ones at the time of your death. When you plan to meet with an attorney regarding this matter, be sure to go over this checklist first.

Ten Things to Have in Place When Planning Your Final Wishes

  1. Plans for your funeral. Planning the funeral of a loved one is a heavy burden while grieving, but you can make these arrangements ahead of time to take the task off the hands of your loved ones. You can pre-arrange and pay for your funeral through a funeral home, or at the very least have written instructions regarding your wishes on being buried, cremated, or entombed, charities you would like memorial donations to be made to, and music you would like to have played or passages you would like to have read at your funeral.
  2. Passwords and login information to accounts. One of the biggest issues bereaved individuals face today is the fact that their deceased loved ones leave digital accounts behind, and they have no access to them because they don’t know the passwords. In fact, many people under the age of seventy today have upwards of 200 digital accounts. You can set up a digital vault or password manager to organize your login information for these accounts, and you may even choose to name a digital executor to close these accounts and distribute any digital assets you may have.
  3. Property deeds and titles. It is essential to keep track of your deed and title documents for all types of real estate, vehicles, and homes that you own. Remember that a living spouse or anyone else listed as a joint owner on a deed becomes the owner when you pass away, regardless of what your will says. If you put any of these assets into a trust, you will also need these documents, as the trust becomes the owner of the assets.
  4. Documents proving your identity. The executor of your estate will have a much easier time with their duties if your identity documents are all in a place where they can be located easily. This includes your birth certificate and social security card, as well as any marriage or divorce certificates, military discharge papers, prenuptial agreements, and divorce settlement documents.
  5. Financial information and insurance policies. You should maintain a list of all your financial accounts, such as investment portfolios, retirement benefits, pension plans, tax returns, loans, mortgages, credit cards, and bank accounts, along with instructions for gaining access to them.
  6. Financial power of attorney (POA). If you wish to give another individual the legal right to manage your property and finances for you, it can be done through a financial power of attorney. The duties they may take on include managing real estate, making deposits, and paying bills. In the event that you require medical care, this individual can also access your assets to support your family and pay your medical costs while you are unable to.
  7. Living will/advance healthcare directive (AHCD). This is a very important document, as it takes a great burden off the shoulders of your loved ones and guarantees that your wishes are carried out regarding your medical care if you cannot do so yourself. This document usually includes a medical power of attorney and a living will.The living will is a way to outline the surgical procedures, treatment methods, medications, and end-of-life care that you choose, among other preferences. Naming a medical power of attorney allows you to select someone to make your healthcare decisions if you are incapacitated (i.e., unconscious or in a coma).
  8. Designation of beneficiaries. Some of your assets may be exempt from the probate process, which requires the courts to supervise the distribution of your assets upon your death. These non-probate assets may include life insurance policies, pensions, and 401(k) accounts, which may directly transfer to the named beneficiary when you pass. To make this process go smoothly, you must contact the institutions through which you have these accounts to name a beneficiary. Once you have done so through the life insurance provider, bank, or other institution, it is not necessary to name these assets in your will, as the beneficiary designation would override the will.
  9. Revocable living trusts. When you place your assets in a trust, you give ownership of those assets to the trust to distribute according to your wishes after you have passed away. Although the trust is a legal entity with ownership of your assets, you are still able to control and use the property while you are alive. Placing your assets in a trust avoids probate court, which can be expensive and time-consuming but requires more maintenance while you are alive than a will does. It makes things easier on your loved ones, however, as the trust can distribute your assets privately and quickly upon your death.Your estate attorney can help you to write and notarize your trust document. When you do this, you will transfer your assets to the trust and name a successor trustee. This individual will carry out the responsibilities of managing your trust after you have died. Depending on your specific needs and the size of your estate, you may also consider an irrevocable living trust, although these are far less common.
  10. Last will and testament. You can use your will to leave assets such as personal possessions, real estate, investment accounts, and bank accounts to your loved ones and non-profit organizations after your passing. This document can also name guardians for your beloved pets and minor children so that your wishes for them are honored. You will name an executor to carry out the terms of your will after you are gone.

Find Experienced Legal Counsel for Your Estate Planning Needs

Today, there are ways to attempt to manage your estate planning needs on your own over the internet. It is often difficult, however, to navigate the legal waters and ensure that your wishes will be carried out exactly as you want. The skilled professionals at Huber Fox Trust and Estate Law don’t want to see you struggle through this process. Our team will handle your needs with care and compassion so that your loved ones will face fewer burdens upon your passing. Visit our website to find out how we can help you.

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