March 14, 2018 | Fundamentals
Thinking about your estate plan can be a daunting task. Luckily, for most people, a complete estate plan involves only a few documents:
Last Will and Testament: Your Will is responsible for transferring your probate assets at your death. Probate assets are most assets that you own in your own name. For many people their homes will be their largest probate asset. Your Will allows you to direct how probate assets pass to your spouse, children, or other people that you wish to receive property from your estate.
Durable Power of Attorney for Property: This document allows an appointed agent to handle your financial affairs if you become incapacitated.
Advance Directive for Health Care: This document is called a “living will” in some states and accomplishes two things: First it appoints a health care agent who can work with your doctor to make decisions regarding your health care if you are incapacitated. Second it provides you with an opportunity to express your preferences about end-of-life decisions including pain management and artificial life support.
“HIPAA” Authorization: Federal law strictly protects health care information. You should therefore have a document waiving your privacy under federal law for certain named agents that you expect may need to make health care decisions for you.
Correct Beneficiary Designations: In addition, if you own assets like insurance and retirement accounts (IRAs, 401(k)s, 403(b)s, etc.) you may need additional documents to complete your estate plan. Insurance and retirement accounts are considered non-probate assets meaning that they are not controlled by the terms of your Will. Non-probate assets require that you file a beneficiary designation to direct the insurance company or account custodian where to distribute the assets at your death.