Do I Need a Will?

6/9/2016Yes, you should have an up-to-date will, a durable power of attorney for health care (also called a health care proxy), and an advance health care directive ("living will") for estate planning purposes, says USA Today in "Do I need a will? What to know about estate planning."

A will tells the decedent's executor or personal representative how his or her assets should be distributed. It can say in what order heirs should get these assets, in case funds run out before all bequests are fulfilled. A will can also set out your wishes for some of your belongings, but most property goes to a new owner by title, beneficiary naming or a judge in the probate process.

When that property is owned jointly, it passes automatically to the surviving owner. Other financial assets like life insurance proceeds and funds from retirement plans are also automatically transferred to the named beneficiaries. Check these documents every few years to be certain that these are up-to-date.

If you become incapacitated, two legal documents can help express your wishes. A living will describes how you want to be treated at the end of your life. Your designated agent has the authority to make decisions according to your wishes by a durable power of attorney for health care.

It's critical to have up-to-date estate planning documents, and you should get these legal documents from lawyers who focus their practice in estate planning. Trust and estate attorneys can help you transfer property to heirs in the most tax-efficient way possible and ensure your plans comply with your state's estate laws.

There are online services that have templates for wills, powers of attorney and health care directives, but it's far safer to have an experienced estate planning attorney who understands your family's specific circumstances prepare these documents. There are many more issues when do-it-yourself legal documentation is used than when these materials are prepared professionally.

Reference: USA Today (April 26, 2016) "Do I need a will? What to know about estate planning"

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