Estate planning: A little organization goes a long way

Planning for our departure from life, whether that possibility is imminent or more remote, is never fun. Many people never plan at all, and still more may plan halfway but leave many loose ends untied. Creating a last will and testament is an important part of the estate planning process and is probably the one people are least likely to omit.

Yet successful estate planning goes far beyond this simple document, and it requires more than simply hiring an estate attorney. It involves working cooperatively with that attorney, along with other professionals such as one’s accountant, financial adviser and medical team, along with family and other involved parties.

One important aspect of the estate planning process is the health care power of attorney and living will. A durable power of attorney for health care can designate a trusted individual to make health care decisions for you if you become incapacitated. While this is often a spouse, it can also be a sibling, child, close friend or a significant other. This is an especially critical step for people in serious relationships who are not married but want to assure that their rights as a couple are respected by hospital staff in the event of an emergency. In addition, a living will can explain your wishes about life-saving medical treatment, resuscitation and other concerns.

If you become incapacitated or deceased, you will also need to designate someone to manage your financial and legal affairs. The financial power of attorney document clarifies these wishes. If you neglect this step, the court may need to appoint a guardian. This costly, harrowing step can be avoided by planning ahead — and assuring your guardian is fully aware of his or her designation and future responsibilities ahead of time.

None of these documents will be particularly helpful if your loved ones do not know how to access this information. You may find it helpful to keep all these legal documents, along with a list of other important information — all financial and bank account numbers, safe deposit box information, recent tax returns, and copies of real estate deeds and vehicle titles — in a secure, clearly organized box or folder. In addition, don’t forget any information about debts, creditors passwords — and of course, the contact information of all professionals on your estate planning team, including your estate attorney.

Source: Washington Post, “Organizing important documents for an orderly departure” Nicole Anzia, Feb. 12, 2014