Estate Planning 101

Have you ever heard the old cliche “Most people don’t plan to fail; they fail to plan.”?  The thought of planning for your future can be overwhelming, and finding the time to do it can be stressful.  Many people think they don’t need to plan for the future; but, getting your affairs in order can make things much easier for your surviving family members.

Who Needs an Estate Plan?

Everyone needs an estate plan because believe it or not…almost everyone has an estate. Anything that you own becomes part of your estate:  your home, car, personal possessions, financial investments, bank accounts, life insurance.  It’s important to provide a plan that states your wishes to ensure your wishes are carried out as you intended.  For most people, the following documents constitute a basic estate plan:

WILL – A will details where you want your assets to go and who is to oversee the execution of the will.  It may also state who is to care for your minor children.

DURABLE POWER OF ATTORNEY (POA) – A durable POA allows you to designate a representative, such as a spouse or an adult child, to perform certain actions for you should you become ill, incapacitated or otherwise unable to manage your affairs.

HEALTH CARE DIRECTIVE – A health care directive is your written declaration of what, if any, life-sustaining medical treatments you would want in the event that you become incapacitated or placed on life support.

HEALTH CARE PROXY – A health care proxy is a person that you designate to make medical decisions on your behalf, and to carry out your health care directive, if you were ever to become incapacitated.

For advanced planning, a trust may be implemented as well.  Trusts are legal vehicles in which a person, a trustee, holds and controls assets for the benefit of a designated beneficiary.  Trusts are useful in many situations, such as for the benefit of children or tax planning.  Placing assets in trust for your children will allow for proper oversight and distribution of the funds by a trustee you designate to your children according to your wishes.

Common Questions:

Does a person have to have a minimum amount of assets to create a last will?  No.  You can create a last will to dispose of assets worth minimal value.

What happens if a person dies without a last will?  Your estate is probated (passed) through the courts for distribution according to the state laws of intestacy – not necessarily according to your wishes.

Can I use standard formed (fill in the blank) wills such as those found in how-to books?  Yes, but you may not get the results you were planning for.  If any of these documents contain errors or omissions, they may be void entirely or may contain provisions contrary to your wishes. Formed documents cannot account for the nuances of your individual situation. In addition, it is best to have an experienced attorney give you advice on which documents you need.

How do I decide what’s best for me?  Wills aren’t  necessarily complicated. They’re actually among the simplest legal documents.  Again, whether or not a will is adequate for your estate planning needs depends on your individual circumstances.  The most important thing is you don’t procrastinate because planning for your future is the best way to protect your loved ones and make sure your assets are distributed according to your wishes.  Consult an attorney, if you’re not sure what you need to protect your family.

Are there risks associated with Powers of Attorneys?  Choosing your agent carefully is the best way to minimize any risk.  Choose someone you trust completely and don’t forget that you are giving your agent the opportunity to access your funds at a time when you may not be able to oversee what he or she is doing.   You can also limit the authority you give your agent in the Power of Attorney.

Does a person have to have a Health Care Directive to stop treatment near the end of life?  No.  Treatment can be stopped without one if everyone involved agrees; however, without a health care directive, decisions may be more difficult and disputes are more likely to arise among family.

Does a directive mean “do not treat?”  A directive can  express both what you want and do not want.  Even if you do not want treatment to keep you on life support, you should always be kept reasonably pain free and comfortable.

If I name a health care proxy, do I give up the right to make my own decisions?  Naming a health care proxy doesn’t take away any of your authority.  You always have the right, while you are still competent, to override the decision of your proxy or revoke the health care directive.

Are directives only for older people with health problems?  No.  It is best for everyone to have a health care directive along with a will, regardless of age.  This allows you to free your family from making a tough decision of keeping you on life support or not.

Planning for your future doesn’t have to be difficult.  We understand.  We can help.  Contact Rahmati Law Firm today for comprehensive, professional advice and counsel in all aspects of estate planning.

“No representation is made that the quality of legal services to be performed is greater than the quality of legal services performed by other lawyers.”


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