What are the "Must Have" estate planning documents?

Essential estate planning documents

Summary: Siedentopf Law discusses the purpose and importance of three essential estate planning documents: 1) Last Will and Testament, 2) Durable Power of Attorney, and 3) Advance Directive for Health Care.

Having an estate plan means making provisions for your friends and loved ones and yourself, should you become disabled or upon your death.  There are three legal documents in particular that will ensure this process is as smooth and stress-free as possible.

Last Will and Testament: A will is a legal document in which a person provides instructions for the distribution of his or her assets, upon death.  This document can also be used to designate a guardian for any minor children.  The executor of the will, also known as a personal representative, will help ensure that an individual’s property is passed to the beneficiaries according to his or her final wishes.  (See our blog on whether to serve as an executor).

Durable Power of Attorney: This document enables a person to act on your behalf in the event of your disability.  A power of attorney can manage affairs including financial matters, real estate transactions, and other legal decisions.  A person can choose when the Durable Power of Attorney forms go into effect (ex: immediately, at a specific future date, only under specific circumstances); however, these powers end at the principal’s death.  Absent a Power of Attorney, a court may appoint a “conservator” or decide what happens to your assets, should you become incapacitated.

Advance Directive for Health Care:  This is a form in which a person lists his or her health care preferences in detail (ex: treatment, medical testing, care options).  It puts family members, doctors, and hospitals on notice – and is only used if the person is unable to communicate his or her own wishes.  An individual can designate a Power of Attorney to make health care decisions; otherwise, the court may appoint a guardian.  (See our blog on understanding the advance health care directive, part one and part two).

These three documents, a 1) will, 2) durable power of attorney, and 3) advance directive for health care provide the foundation for an estate plan and help an individual stay in control of his or her financial, legal, and health decisions.  Once you have these key documents in place, be sure to review and update them regularly – especially following a major life event or change in residency.  For more information about the “Must Have” estate planning documents, visit Siedentopf Law’s website at EstateLawAtlanta.com or call (404) 736 – 6066.

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