The importance of thorough estate planning cannot be underemphasized. Not having estate planning documents in place is a disservice to your loved ones. There are basic estate planning documents that everyone should have prepared on their behalf, including:
• Last Will and Testament: this is the main document that directs what your specific wishes are as to the disposition of your real and personal property after your death. You should list all of your assets, and exactly how you wish for them to be distributed after your passing. Be sure to include all bank accounts, life insurance information, safety deposit boxes, vehicles, and real estate owned by you. In this document, you also list and direct to whom specific tangible items of your estate will go. Family heirlooms and objects that have sentimental value are usually included in this section of your Will.
• Living Will: this document states when you do and do not wish to receive medical care artificially prolonging your life. It also designates a specific person to carry out your wishes, in the event that you are deemed incapable of making decisions regarding your receiving or withholding medical treatment. Having a clear plan for these types of situations is essential to ensure that your loved ones understand your wishes to continue or not continue treatment.
• Durable Power of Attorney: this gives a person (or persons) that you appoint power to act and make decisions on your behalf in areas that you specify, such as access to your bank accounts, the ability to buy and sell real or personal property, open safety deposit boxes, etc. Banks, utility companies, realtors, title companies, and many other companies who provide services to you or safeguard personal information, will require your designated representative to show this document prior to releasing account information or engaging in any business on your behalf.
• Designation of Health Care Surrogate: this appoints a person (or persons) to make health care-related decisions on your behalf, should you become incapacitated. This is an important part of your estate plan because it gives the person of your choice the power to direct health care providers according to your wishes. For this document, you will need to decide on a representative and at least one alternate who you wish to make these decisions for you if and when you become unable to do so for yourself. Many people appoint a spouse as one of their designated surrogates.
In addition, Association members also have other specific issues to be taken into consideration when estate planning. Are you a member on a board of directors? What are your assessments, where are the payments sent, and how often are they due? Do you have a management company or contact person that your heirs can speak with? What do your association’s governing documents say about beneficiaries? Do your beneficiaries have copies or access to the governing documents of your association? A copy of your governing documents should also be kept with your estate planning file, and will help direct heirs as to rules for the sale of a property, payment of assessments, and other procedural information they may not be familiar with.
If you do not have a will, living will, durable power of attorney and designation of health care surrogate, now is the time to have these documents prepared. The cost and time to prepare these documents is minor compared the importance of having them in place. The people who ultimately handle your estate will be grateful you made this effort.