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A comprehensive estate plan should at least include the following documents: durable power of attorney, health care directives and a Last Will and Testament (a Will).
Health Care Directives, often referred to as a Health Care Proxy and a Living Will, are relatively straight forward documents. However, do not let that fact diminish the incredible importance and value of these documents. A health care proxy gives you the ability to appoint an agent to make health care decisions for you if you are unable. A living will allows you to identify what type of treatment you would want to receive or refuse in an end-of-life situation (ie, maximum pain relief). Without these documents, if you become unable to make your own decisions, someone may need to go to court to become your legal guardian. This is is a time consuming and costly process that is avoidable with the properly executed legal documents.
Durable Power of Attorney with Statutory Gift Rider. Similarly, with a properly executed and comprehensive durable power of attorney, you can name agent(s) to handle financial and related matters on your behalf, including the authority to implement asset protection planning to protect your assets in the event of a catastrophic illness. Without the power of attorney, someone will need to be appointed as your guardian.
Last Will and Testament. Lastly, with a Will, you can set forth how you want your assets to be distributed upon your passing and to whom. You will name someone, the Executor, to handle this for you, typically with the guidance of an experienced estate attorney. You can also make special provisions on your Will to save estate taxes or to protect a loved one who may have special or long term care needs or other issues. Wills can and should be drafted to meet your specific situation and wishes.
A comprehensive estate plan may also include a living trust depending on your goals and desires.
It is important to meet with an experienced estate planning attorney who will discuss in detail how these important documents should be drafted to meet your needs and answer your questions.