December 01, 2023
There is one estate planning document that nearly everyone knows about – the Last Will and Testament. However, many people are surprised to learn that there are other estate planning tools they may need to fully protect their future and their assets. Even if your estate is not particularly large, you will still benefit from a comprehensive estate plan. While many estate planning documents do involve the distribution of assets, not all of them do. Here, we’ll provide an overview of the core estate planning documents and how they may benefit you and your loved ones.
A will allows you to name an administrator to handle your estate after your passing and gives instructions for how your assets should be distributed. It is the foundation document for your estate plan. Even those who have invested in trusts will need a last will and testament.
If you do not have a will at the time of your death, known as dying “intestate,” the State of Indiana will use probate laws to determine how to distribute your assets. This means that any assets in your estate, such as real estate, collectibles, or family heirlooms, could be distributed according to formulas set by a court. You and your family members will have limited control, if any, over how the items are handled. It is recommended that every adult have a valid will in place.
Some of the most vital “must-have” estate planning documents involve healthcare considerations.
In the event that you are unable to advocate on your own behalf, you can establish documents that will tell your doctors what types of medical intervention they can or cannot perform. DNR orders, whether you want to be placed on a respirator, and how your doctors should approach certain ailments are all considerations that you want to include in your Living Will and discuss with your healthcare proxy.
Your Living Will directly addresses what types of medical procedures you authorize when you cannot advocate for yourself. Your healthcare proxy is authorized to make decisions on your behalf when you are unable to express your desires. Both will need to be documented to be actionable.
Further, you will need to give healthcare proxies access to your medical information through HIPAA releases, which act to protect your medical privacy.
A durable power of attorney (DPOA) allows another individual, usually a close friend or relative, to manage your affairs if you become incapacitated. The designated person will be authorized to make financial decisions on your behalf, including paying bills, opening and closing accounts, and managing your estate in the event that you can no longer do that yourself. Having a DPOA in place can be useful for many reasons, especially if you own a business.
While traditionally, most have relied on wills to distribute their assets, a better alternative may be available in the form of a living trust. Not only can living trusts remove assets from your estate that you would otherwise have to pay taxes on (and thus reduce your tax burden), but they are often a much more effective vehicle for distributing assets. Assets distributed in a will must pass through probate. Assets distributed in a trust are passed directly to heirs. You can also establish terms for the distribution of assets within a trust.
If you’ve never considered the financial tools mentioned above, it is probably time to review your estate plan. The attorneys at The Bellinger Law Office can help. Call today for an appointment, and we can review your estate plan and financial needs today.
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