There are several steps you can take now, with the help of a qualified, knowledgeable estate planning attorney, that can help you avoid unwanted outcomes down the road. Below is a quick list of documents which can be drafted and actions which can be undertaken to ensure that your family and your property are dealt with according to your wishes after your death (or during your life after incapacity).
- Will - Your will is the legal document whereby you state who will inherit your property, who will be the guardian of your minor children and who will be charged with administering your estate after your death. The will is the bedrock upon which your entire estate plan is built.
- Trust - Holding property in a trust is a good way to avoid having your property exposed to the cost and delay which are almost always associated with the probate process.
- Health Care Proxy - This is an estate planning document that only has effect while you are alive. The Health Care Proxy is the document whereby you name a person (an "agent") to make your health care decisions in the event you are not mentally competent to do so. You can also leave a directive to your agent stating what you would like them to do in certain situations.
- Power of Attorney - As with the Health Care Proxy, the Power of Attorney is effective during your lifetime. You appoint an agent ("attorney-in'fact") to make decisions for you in the case of mental incapacity. But in the case of the Power of Attorney, the decisions are concerning your finances.
- Testamentary Trust for property your children inherit - This Trust, which can be included in your Will names and adult to manage your children's inherited property until they reach a certain age.
- Name Beneficiaries - Make sure any accounts you have (bank accounts, life insurance policies, retirement accounts, etc.) have named beneficiaries so the property will pass to them automatically after your death. This step avoids the probate process and may, in some cases, be able to prevent creditors from being able to attach the property.
- Life insurance - Purchasing a life insurance policy is one way you can provide funds to those you leave behind to pay your debts and to pay for future known expenses (mortgage, college tuition, retirement, etc.).
- Estate taxes - knowing whether your estate will be subject to federal or state estate taxes will help guide your estate planning decisions
- Business assets - if you own a business, either alone or in a partnership, you should have a succession plan or buyout agreement in place.