Estate planning is the general term used to describe the portfolio of documents that lets you memorialize how you want your life to be conducted if you lose capacity to direct those persons overseeing your physical care and financial resources (for example, a Durable Power of Attorney and a Living Will) and to designate how you want your assets to be distributed upon your death (for example, a Last Will and Testament and/or a Living Trust). Additionally, if you have minor children, you may want to document your choices for guardians if you die (for example, a Nomination of Guardian).
The first step in this process is to gather information regarding your assets and to think about how you would like those assets distributed. You should also consider alternates to your primary plan in case something happens to a person or persons between the time you execute your estate planning documents and the time when these plans need to be implemented.
Also you need to think about who will be authorized to act on your behalf financially (your agent) and who will be authorized to act on your behalf regarding your physical well-being (your health care surrogate) if you are no longer able to do so for yourself. You may first want to discuss with these designated person(s) your intentions to see if they are willing to accept these responsibilities and that they understand your wishes.
Your estate plan is the sum of all the above choices you have made when formally documented in accordance with the requirements of state law.
As long you have are still mentally competent and physically able, you may change your estate plan as often as you wish. In fact, it is often a wise plan to look at it annually to see if any changes need to be made due to changes in your intentions, in your financial or family situation, or in the law.
It is never too early to think about setting up your estate plan, but it can be too late. As we all know, life is full of surprises – some good and some bad. If tragedy strikes before you create your estate plan, you waive your right to make many choices about your life and your assets.
Please see additional blogs on this website to address specific areas and issues regarding estate planning.
If you have any questions regarding the above or creating your estate plan, please contact me and I will be glad to assist you.