This week is officially National Estate Planning week. I am sure that this really excites you as it does me, kind of like National Life Insurance Month, and others too numerous to mention. But, this subject can be important whether your estate is $100 million or $100,000.
All of us need to consider five important documents to help manage and transfer our assets in the event of death, illness or disability. Remember, consult a good attorney to help in drafting documents specific to your needs and wishes.
- Durable Power of Attorney –Help protect manage your assets if you become physically or mentally unable to handle these matters yourself. This document allows someone else of your choosing to act on your behalf, such as paying bills, collect benefits and file taxes.
- Advanced Medical Directive – Lets others know the medical treatments you want or don’t want, or allows someone else to make medical decisions for you.
- Will – This is the basic foundation of any estate plan. You name an executor who will manage and settle your estate. This document disburses property and assets to your heirs after death. If you don’t have a will, state law determines how assets are distributed. Make sure your will is well written and precisely states your wishes. A will can also name guardian(s) for your minor children.
- Letter of Instruction – Also called testamentary letter or side letter, is an informal nonlegal document used to express your personal thoughts and directions regarding your estate. You can state burial wishes, location of important documents and any thing you want to express to your family or heirs. Unlike your will, this letter remains private and is not legally binding.
- Living Trust – Not everyone needs a living trust, but it does help to avoid probate. Probate can be simple and easy or long and drawn out depending on the complexity of your estate. You title your assets to the trust and you are the trustee. You can change the terms of the trust at any time or end it altogether and a living trust generally has no effect on estate taxes you may owe. Usually, a trust document is private, whereas a will and probate are matter of public record.
By Joe Arndt, of Glendale, a CLU, ChFC Pres., Arndt & Associates 8124 Big Bend Blvd. St. Louis MO 63119