The thought of preparing a basic estate plan can be intimidating. Many people delay preparing a basic estate plan because they feel they have time or do not want to face the prospect of their own death or a situation where they would not be able to effectively convey their desires. However, once you overcome the anxiety that consideration of these events present, you start to realize the practical benefits of having even just the most basic estate plan documents in place, should the worst happen. Your estate plan is going to vary based upon your age, your health, and your assets, among other factors. However, documents that are reasonably common in most basic estate planning are the Will, the Durable Power of Attorney, and the Health Care Proxy.
Most people are familiar with a will, or a “Last Will and Testament.” This is the document that provides instructions to those you leave behind upon your death. You identify the person that you wish to oversee the payment of any debts you had at the time you passed away, or pay taxes owed by your estate. This person is the Personal Representative (“PR”) for your estate. The role used to be identified as the Executor or Executrix, but has since evolved. The PR handles the tasks already mentioned, but also oversees the distribution of your Real Estate, if included as part of a will, and/or other belongings in accordance with your wishes.
Next is the Durable Power of Attorney (“POA”). Unlike a will, the POA operates while you are still alive and allows the person you designate to sign various business, legal, or financial documents on your behalf if you are not able to do so yourself. The POA is often triggered when you are not able to make decisions for yourself. A doctor usually determines whether you are capable of making sound decisions in the event of an illness or trauma.
The third most common document associated with a basic estate plan is the Health Care Proxy. Similar to a POA, the Health Care Proxy allows the person you designate to make important healthcare decisions for you if you are not able to make them for yourself. The Health Care Proxy also allows you to express your desires regarding the level and extent of life support measures you would want used to prolong your life and specific circumstances where you would prefer such measures are not used.
Ultimately, the goal with most basic estate plans is to reduce any sort of ambiguity and provide clear instructions now, while you are able, outlining your desires of what you want to happen if and/or when you are no longer able to express such desires.
Every situation varies and all estate plans are made to order. Make sure you speak with a knowledgeable attorney when you are ready.