For many people, the idea of creating an estate plan is a bit intimidating. One reason for that is the simple fact that estate planning involves legal concepts, strategies, and documents that the average person is unfamiliar with because they are not typically used outside of the estate planning process. If you have yet to create your estate plan, the time to do so is now to ensure that you, your assets, and your loved ones are protected both now and in the future. To help make the process of creating an estate plan a bit less intimidating, the following list includes five basic estate planning documents and a description of each.
Estate Planning 101 – Basic Estate Planning Documents
- Last Will and Testament – for most people, a Last Will and Testament serves as the foundation for a well thought out and comprehensive estate plan. Your Will allows you to create a roadmap for the distribution of your estate assets when you are gone. Your Will allows you to do more than simply dictate how your assets will be distributed after your death though. You also have the ability to appoint an Executor in your Will who will oversee the probate of your estate. Although people frequently spend very little time deciding who to appoint as Executor, the reality is that your Executor can greatly influence the success, or failure, of your entire estate plan. Finally, your Last Will and Testament offers you the only official opportunity you will have to nominate a Guardian for your minor children in the event one is ever needed.
- Trust — a trust is a relationship whereby property is held by one party for the benefit of another. A trust is created by a settlor, who transfers property to a Trustee. The Trustee holds that property for the trust’s beneficiaries. The beneficiaries can be individuals, organizations, or even the family pet and may be present or future beneficiaries. Trusts are broadly divided first into testamentary and living trusts. A testamentary rust does not take effect until the death of the Settlor while a living trust takes effect immediately upon the completion of the formalities of creation. Living trusts are further divided into revocable and irrevocable trusts.
- Power of Attorney – a power of attorney, or POA, is a legal arrangement that allows a Principal to appoint an Agent to act on behalf of the Principal in legal matters. A POA can be general or limited. A general POA gives the Agent almost unfettered authority to act on behalf of the Principal while a limited POA gives the Agent only the authority specifically enumerated in the agreement. All POAs can be made durable, meaning the Agent’s authority survives the incapacity of the Principal.
- Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care Choices – a type of advanced directive that lets you name and Agent to make decisions about your health care in the event you are unable by reason of any physical or mental condition to receive and evaluate health care treatment information or to communicate health care decisions.
- Health Care Choices Directive – although often referred to as a “living Will,” a Health Care Choices Directive actually allow you to do more than a living Will. This document lets state your general wishes regarding health care as well as allows you choose specific treatments that you wish to be withheld or withdrawn in the event you have a terminal illness or are persistently unconscious. Finally, you have the ability to choose to be an organ donor within your Health Care Choices Directive if you wish.
Only your Missouri estate planning attorney can help you decide which of these estate planning documents will fit into your estate plan which is why it is always best to consult with an experienced Missouri estate planning attorney when you are ready to get started with your estate plan.
If you have additional questions or concerns regarding estate planning, contact the experienced Missouri estate planning attorneys at Amen, Gantner & Capriano, Your Estate Matters, LLC by calling (314) 966-8077 to schedule an appointment.