Wills and Estates
THE IMPORTANCE OF HAVING DOCUMENTS
LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT
If you have young children, the most important provision is the selection of a guardian who would raise the children if both parents died. For business owners with adult children, the challenge is to allocate the business and other assets so that the parents' deaths do not trigger a bitter fight. Even people of modest means need WILLS to make sure their assets go where they want. Die without a WILL and there is no money for your favorite charity or someone you are involved with in a long-term but non-marital relationship. State law might divide your money equally among a surviving spouse and children, even though many people would rather it all go to the spouse, or to the children. You may choose to direct money to others in trust, rather than outright. Trusts can reduce taxes on large estates. Monies can be parceled out to children who would otherwise receive and possibly foolishly spend a large sum at age of eighteen.
POWER OF ATTORNEY
Who would tend to your banking and financial affairs if a serious illness or crisis left you unable? Your family could go to court to get a guardian appointed, which could possibly incur significant legal fees. In advance, you should authorize a spouse or other trusted individual to make financial decisions for you.
The POWER OF ATTORNEY that names an agent is a simple and handy document but also a potent one. You have to grant this power to someone trustworthy. You can revoke a power of attorney by tearing it up. Some people tell the selected agent about the POWER OF ATTORNEY, but then leave the document with the lawyer who prepares it.
ON HEALTH CARE
A HEALTH-CARE POWER OF ATTORNEY authorizes someone to make medical decisions for you if you are temporarily or permanently unable. It is usually coupled with a LIVING WILL wherein you indicate the type of care you want if you were terminally ill or permanently unconscious. A LIVING WILL is not just for people who want to avoid being sustained indefinitely on mechanical life support systems. It is specifically designed to explain personal wishes, which may be that you want extraordinary medical procedures as long as you are alive. These documents minimize family squabbles and ease the terrible burden on loved ones at life's end.
The last step is a personal financial inventory that lists, in plain English, the professional advisers, insurance policies and banking and investment accounts that your survivors might otherwise have to scramble to find in the event of your death or other crisis. Among the items to record: names and phone numbers of your attorney, your accountant and other chief advisers; location of important documents such as WILL, POWERS, PROPERTY DEEDS; a listing, with account numbers and document location, for all insurance policies, bank accounts, investment accounts, credit card accounts and loans; and the location of safe-deposit boxes and of the box keys.
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