What legal documents do you need to become prepared for the unexpected worst-case scenario? This is not a question with a cookie cutter answer; each individual has different needs. To help you understand what documents you may need, here is more information regarding the most commonly prepared estate documents:
A Last Will and Testament appoints an individual, either an Executor (a man) or an Executrix (a woman), who will carry out your wishes regarding your estate.
Wills may list specific personal property bequests to beneficiaries, such as, “I specifically give, devise, and bequeath my jewelry to my niece, Madison”, or you may opt to have language added that allows you to leave a hand-written list of personal property bequests with your Will.
The most important designations in a Will are generally appointing guardians of minor children, disposition of real property, the appointment of an Executor, and alternate beneficiaries.
If you pass away without a properly prepared and executed formal Will, your estate will pass to your closet descendants, “trickling down the family tree”. If you do not approve of the direction your assets would trickle, or who would inherit your assets in the event that your descendants predecease you, having a will prepared is the way to carry out your specific wishes.
When you have minor children, a will being formally prepared is particularly critical, as this is where you would appoint their guardian(s).
Many people wonder if they even need a Will. If you do not have minor children, and if you approve of how your assets would trickle down the family tree, you may not. However, certain circumstances, such as a blended family, make a proper Will an important task to tackle.
A will is particularly important to have prepared by an attorney, specifically an attorney in the state in which you reside, as each state has different laws and practices. By using a general template online without the assistance of an attorney, you risk your wishes not being carried out at all or being carried out incorrectly.
Whitney Pennington is ready to discuss the terms of your Will and answer any questions that you may have.
A Power of Attorney appoints power to an individual that you trust to assist you with the management of your financial affairs. You should only appoint someone that you trust implicitly to this role, as it gives them the ability to manage your finances and even apply for credit or loans on your behalf.
A regular Power of Attorney is activated as soon as it is formally executed. A Springing Power of Attorney “springs” to life upon your disability, which is when most people would truly require the assistance of their appointed attorney in fact. Whitney Pennington is ready to assist you in determining which Power of Attorney would best suit your needs.
Many clients mistakenly believe that a Power of Attorney becomes active upon their demise. In actuality, a Power of Attorney passes away with you, as the next individual to assume responsibility would be the Executor or Executrix of your Will. So, if you have appointed a Power of Attorney, you would still require a Last Will and Testament if you want that same individual to carry out the bequests of your estate.
An Advanced Medical Directive states your wishes regarding your health care and appoints an individual to make these decisions on your behalf.
This document is wise for any adult to have prepared on their behalf, as it could be critically important in the event of a serious injury or medical condition.
Your appointed agent, under the guidance of your doctor, is able to make medical decisions for you, such as to continue or withdraw artificial nutrition and hydration, or to donate organs.
If you have not discussed your wishes with your relatives or close friends and you experience a severe injury, your loved ones may struggle to make decisions on your behalf. In some scenarios, if one family member believes you would have requested life support, while another believes you would not want life-preserving services, a legal matter can be opened on your behalf to introduce evidence to speak to what you would have wanted. This can be a financial and emotional burden on your loved ones.
After your Advanced Medical Directive is prepared, it is recommended that a copy be provided to your appointed agent and your primary care doctor. Both should be provided a hard copy and a soft copy to ensure that it is easy to locate and there is evidence that it was provided.
A Trust is recommended when you want to “control your estate past the grave”; to care for a minor child; to assist with the care and maintenance of a disabled or incapacitated adult or a companion animal; by giving you the means to manage their assets and appoint a Trustee to oversee their assets on your behalf.
If you have minor children, a Trust is recommended to ensure that they continue to live the lifestyle they are accustomed to by planning for the assets you bequeath them to be used properly. The Trust may even help them continue residing in the family home and arrange for its sale upon their graduation of high school to assist with their college tuition. You may set goals for capacitated children to reach before they have access to their assets. For example, you may specify that your children may receive access to one-half of their assets upon graduation from college, and one-half upon their attainment of the age of thirty.
If you have a disabled or incapacitated adult child, establishing a trust is a way to manage the assets you bequeathed to them to care for them as long as possible.
Some pet parents also choose to establish Trust for their pets. Creating a Pet Trust ensures that your pet will be cared for in the event that something happens to you; you may appoint a guardian and arrange to pay for their care. You may also specify that your pet not be surrendered to an animal shelter, and make donations toward their care in the event they are placed in a rescue to find a new home.
Whitney Pennington is ready to help you build a Trust that meets your family’s needs.