Many people execute a simple will and think that their estate planning needs are complete. However, even though you might think that estate planning is mainly about deciding what should happen when you die, there are many important estate planning tools that can help protect your wishes and interests before death.
For example, a durable power of attorney is a document that allows you to give someone else the authority to make legal and financial decisions on your behalf if you were ever to become incapacitated due to injury or illness.
When choosing who to designate as your “agent,” it’s important to consider only people who both care about you and have experience handling financial and legal matters. It’s also wise to name a back-up agent in case your first election doesn’t work out.
Another important estate planning tool that could come in handy during your lifetime is a living will. This is a document, also known as a health-care directive, that directs your end-of-life care. For example, the living will could state whether you want to be resuscitated if your heart or breathing stops.
In conjunction with a living will, it’s also smart to establish a medical power of attorney or health care proxy. This individual will make medical decisions on your behalf if you are incapacitated. Again, it’s important to make the selection wisely and choose someone who can make difficult decisions under stress.
Even though it’s not always easy to plan for a day when you will not be able to make decisions for yourself, doing so can make sure that you are prepared if that day ever comes. It can also prevent conflict among your loved ones who might disagree over what you would want.
Ultimately, as a Florida elder law attorney told the Wall Street Journal, estate planning “isn’t just about death and taxes; it’s also about what happens if you get very sick and live.”
Source: The Wall Street Journal, “Four Estate-Planning Documents Everyone Should Have,” Tom Lauricella, April 20, 2014
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