Every adult should have a basic estate plan that contemplates both life and death. The basic plan should include four key documents– a Will, Power of Attorney, Healthcare Directive, and a Living Will which I describe briefly below.
A Will, short for Last Will and Testament, can be a simple document distributing assets outright to your heirs or it can be more complex; planning for all types of situations from minor children to special needs beneficiaries. A Will acts like a roadmap on how and when to distribute your assets to your heirs.
A basic plan should plan for more than just your death, however. It should also plan for your incapacity. The core document needed for this type of planning is a Durable Power of Attorney. A Durable Power of Attorney allows you to appoint an agent who can handle your financial affairs if you should become incapacitated. This document is critically important. Without a Durable Power of Attorney, no one has the power to manage your affairs while you are incapacitated. The only way to get that kind of power once you are incapacitated would be to go to court. This puts additional burden on your loved ones in what would be an already stressful and difficult time.
Healthcare Directives and Living Wills are also extremely important when planning for incapacity as they focus on your health. A Healthcare Directive appoints someone to interact with healthcare professionals and make decisions on your behalf if you are incapacitated. A Living Will lets you inform your doctors (and loved ones) of your wishes regarding what extraordinary medical procedures you want performed, if you are in a terminal condition with no hope of recovery. It details your exact intentions, which is incredibly beneficial to your family as it takes the weight of those decisions off their shoulders.
This is just a quick synopsis of the basic estate planning documents every adult should have. Each person is unique so I suggest sitting down with a qualified attorney to discuss your situation and goals. Many attorneys (like myself) offer free consultations to talk more about what documents you should have and answer your questions, including how long it’ll take to finalize your plan and how much it’ll cost. A basic estate plan like the one I outlined above should be affordable for most, and some attorneys will work out payment plans with you if necessary. And it really shouldn’t take more than a few weeks to complete once you’ve engaged an attorney and picked your plan.
Marc Guertin is the principal at Marc Guertin, Attorney at Law, LLC in North Haven, Connecticut. Call 203-500-0201 or email Marc@attorneymarc.com to schedule a complimentary consultation.