When you decide to proceed with the creation of an estate plan, an experienced and qualified estate planning attorney will inevitably discuss including other documents in your estate plan in addition to your Will or Trust. Your estate plan should, at a minimum, include three other documents. These are:
- Advance Health Care Directive: This important document allows you to appoint a health care agent and to make specific decisions regarding future medical treatments you want to receive if you become unable to make those decisions. For example, if you became unconscious following a car accident, you could inform treating medical professionals that you don’t want advance life-sustaining procedures.
- Revocable living trust/Pour-Over Will: Ask your estate planning attorney about the benefits of creating a revocable living trust for estate planning purposes. You can help keep some of your estate planning details private by creating one. Unlike a Will, your revocable living trust is not filed with your local probate court. Even if you have a living trust, you will also need a back-up document known as a “pour-over” Will, which will handle assets that may have been left out of your trust.
- Financial power of attorney: Your attorney can help you create a power of attorney allowing an agent to take certain legal actions on your behalf. There are several different types of powers you can give your agent or attorney in fact. As the principal, you have the legal decision-making authority limiting or broadening those powers. Also, your attorney may choose to create a durable power of attorney, instead of a limited power of attorney to last beyond your incapacity.
The creation of a comprehensive estate plan is not something to approach casually. While there are numerous web sites, form books and CDs that purport to allow you to do this crucial planning on your own, our experience with this approach is that it more often causes more problems than it solves. To make matters worse, the problems are often not discovered until after you become incapacitated or have died. This could mean having to resort to expensive, time consuming and burdensome court proceedings to settle your affairs. These are things that everyone wants to avoid. The morale of the story: The best way to proceed is to work with an experienced and qualified estate planning attorney.