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If you are an adult, 18 or older, it is never too early in life for estate planning. If you are among the majority of people who believe that estate planning only addresses what will happen to your property and assets after your die, you should know that it also covers what happens to you while you are alive should you be temporarily or permanently incapacitated. Estate planning is not just for people with lots of money and assets. It is for everyone.
Estate Planning for Life
Important aspects of estate planning include these tools which go into effect while you are alive, should you become incapacitated and unable to speak on your own behalf:
- Living will – advance healthcare directive
- Medical power of attorney
- Financial power of attorney
- Nomination of Guardian for minor children
The living will allows you to make certain medical decisions in advance, such as whether you are to be placed on life-support. The medical power of attorney authorizes a specific person of your choice to make medical decisions on your behalf. A financial power of attorney authorizes the person of your choice to take care of your financial affairs. Without a financial power of attorney the court will appoint a guardian, often a stranger who acts at your expense. Nomination of Guardian for minor children allows you to choose who will care for your children while you are incapacitated, rather than leaving that decision to the courts.
Estate Planning for Death
Powers of attorney are no longer effective when you die. A will is the most basic of all estate planning tools. It allows you to designate who will receive your property and assets, and who will raise our children.
With or without a will your estate will typically have to go through a legal process called probate, which can be a long, expensive and difficult process for your loved ones. During probate, your loved ones do not have access to the property and assets they are to eventually receive. However, there are many tools which can keep property and assets out of probate so that they pass directly to named beneficiaries. These include:
- Living trusts
- Pay on death accounts
- Life insurance with named beneficiaries
- Pension and retirement benefits with named beneficiaries
- Property held in joint tenancy with right of survivorship
Other tools to consider include:
- Special needs trusts
- Pet trusts