Don't Delay – Start with Estate-Planning Basics Today
Less than half of Americans have a will, according to a survey by lawyers.com. Although creating a will is easy to put off because it requires thinking about an unpleasant subject, taking action now could spare your loved ones from unnecessary confusion, heartache, and expense later on.
Make Your Wishes Known
Perhaps you think that you don't own enough property to warrant writing a will. But that's simply not true; everyone needs an estate plan. If you die intestate – without a will – the laws of your state will determine how your property is distributed and who becomes responsible for your children.
Creating a will can be quick and easy if your estate and family circumstances are uncomplicated. Just be sure it addresses some specific issues:
• Name a personal representative or executor for your estate. This is the person who will administer your estate. That involves protecting your property until all debts and taxes have been paid, and transferring what's left to those who are entitled to it, according to your wishes. The executor may have to handle real estate, investing, accounting and legal issues.
• Name a guardian if you have minor children.
• Spell out how you want your property distributed as specifically as possible. When squabbles arise among heirs, it's often because the deceased's wishes were not made clear.
Make Your Wishes Known, Part Two
Estate planning isn't just for your heirs and assets. Some documents can assure that your wishes are followed while you're still alive, but unable to express your desires. A durable power of attorney allows you to delegate legal authority over your affairs to another person. The person you name can act in your place if you are not physically or mentally able to make decisions.
A health care proxy, also known as health care agent or medical power of attorney, enables you to authorize someone you trust to make medical decisions on your behalf if you're not able to. This can also spare your loved ones much pain under difficult circumstances. However, it is vital that you discuss with the person(s) you name what your desires are for different kinds of treatments and life-saving or -prolonging measures. Would you want certain types of care under some circumstances but not others?
A living will, also called a health care declaration or directive, allows you to specify in writing the kinds of health care you want under certain conditions if you are unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to communicate.