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Planning to help your survivors

September 25, 2015
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Everybody needs estate planning to protect your loved ones when you die or if you become incapacitated. When emotions run high, your estate plan settles your affairs and will help the people you care most about with difficult decisions. In addition to a Last Will and Testament (which you need to get NOW if you don’t already have one), some other considerations are also important.

A LIVING WILL VS A HEALTH CARE PROXY
A living will is an expression of a person’s wishes regarding the medical procedures that should (or should not) be followed when faced with an incurable or irreversible condition. A living will typically includes a request to not have one’s life prolonged by life-sustaining measures, and to be allowed to die naturally and to be given all care necessary to be comfortable and relieve pain. In some states the living will has been substantially supplanted by the health care proxy, which also names a health care agent to make health-related decisions in the event that a person is unable to speak on his or her own behalf. Nevertheless, because not all states have health care proxy laws, and it is possible to end up in a hospital outside of the home state, most people should have both documents to cover all the possibilities.

CHOOSING AN EXECUTOR
The choice of an executor is extremely important, and deciding who to appoint is not always straightforward. Competency and character are among the important considerations.

  • If you are married, you may choose your spouse. This should be discussed with your spouse to be sure that he or she is comfortable dealing with the financial and legal issues. Sometimes a trusted co-executor can be helpful to your spouse.

  • If you have adult children who are financially responsible, a parent might choose one or two of the children to act as executor or co-executors. Again, this should be discussed with the possible executors before making the choice. If co-executors are chosen, it is important to consider the relationship between the co-executors.

  • If no family member is a good choice for any reason, you may choose a family friend, a professional advisor, or a corporate trustee as co- or sole executor. This way, there will be a third-party who can make decisions or who can work with the spouse or children. Note that by law, executors are entitled to compensation, usually based on the value of the assets passing under the Will. Family members may be willing to act as executors without compensation.

THE BINDER
One of the least discussed, but most important, items to have available to your survivors is a binder or file that contains all the information regarding where your accounts, documents, etc. are located. Further, you must include in the information everything that is needed to access the accounts, like phone numbers, names, etc.

SEE AN ESTATE ATTORNEY
One way to assure yourself that the estate plan is done right is to have an estate attorney’s advice. I urge you to set up your plan with an expert so that your estate is settled the way you want it to be.