64% of Americans don’t have a will. Are you one of them? If you pass away without a will, it means you have died “intestate”. When this occurs, the intestacy laws of the state will distribute your property at death. Dying without a will – or intestate – creates many problems and hassles for your loved ones: A probate judge appoints your executor, you have no say in distributing your property, and a judge will decide who will raise your kids if they are minors, to name just a few. And estates which pass by intestacy rules, are more likely to become the subject of litigation. Regardless of your age, income or occupation, every adult should have the following estate planning documents;
Will: This document is the heart and soul of your estate plan. It will transfer your assets, appoint a guardian for minor children and name an executor (sometimes called personal representative), the individual or institution that takes charge of your estate after you die and distributes your property per your instructions.
Durable Power of Attorney: This document appoints a trusted friend, family member or advisor as an “agent” to act on your behalf in a variety of financial and legal matters.
Health Care Proxy: Sometimes referred to as a health care agent or health care power of attorney, authorizes someone to make medical decisions on your behalf.
You also may want to consider obtaining a Living Will sometimes called advance directive, which expresses your preferences about certain aspects of end of life care. These issues may be covered in the health care proxy or in a separate document.
The best way to get these documents drafted is through an estate planning attorney that practices in your state. If you know of an estate planning attorney, call them up and arrange a meeting. Once they learn about your overall situation and objectives, they may offer recommendations that go beyond the basic documents recommended in this article. Nothing beats personalized advice and planning from a specialist who thoroughly understands your situation and what you want to accomplish. If you don’t know an estate attorney, try to get a referral from a friend, family member, or colleague.
If you can’t or do not want to meet with an estate attorney, for whatever reason, you have options online for drafting these documents which is certainly better than doing nothing. Three of the more popular online resources for drafting estate planning documents are:
There is a famous expression that I love: “You can prevent what you can foresee”. When you foresee the problems of dying intestate, you can prevent such problems by drafting the estate planning documents covered in this article while you are alive and well. Are you one of the 64% of Americans without a will? What are you waiting for? The future is uncertain, so get started today!