Estate Planning Fundamentals
Last updated 11/27/2019 at 9:05am
Plan for a long life and keep these vital documents up-to-date for your protection and the sake of those you love.
The underlying goal of proper estate planning is to ensure the legacy you leave behind provides your family with essential information that can help guide them through a difficult and confusing time.
There are a number of fundamental pieces you may want to consider when drafting your estate planning documents, including:
Last Will and Testament
A Last Will and Testament ("Will") is a legal document naming guardians for your minor children and directing the distribution of your assets upon your death. While a Will can be contested and does go through the probate process, it is the bare minimum legal protection you need. Without a Will, the court may have to appoint guardians for your children without regard to your preferences.
Personal Property Memorandum
When writing your Will, one of the most important tasks is to identify who should inherit your personal property. Do you want to leave everything to your spouse, for example, or do you have lots of items you'd like to leave to different relatives and friends? One solution is to draft a separate document, called a "Personal Property Memorandum," which is simply a signed list of items along with the people you wish to inherit them.
A Durable General Power of Attorney
This legal document gives a person, your agent, the power to make financial decisions on your behalf. You name an agent (this person does not need to be an attorney) who steps into your shoes, legally speaking. Should you become incapacitated, your agent can maintain your financial affairs until you are again able to act, without any need for court involvement.
Without a durable general power of attorney, your closest blood relative-who may not be your choice and may not know your wishes-would generally have the right to be appointed as guardian and would be given this authority.
A Living Will
This document is your declaration that you do not wish to receive life-sustaining treatment if there is no significant hope of recovery. Even if you are young and in good health, you may want to consider having a living will. The failure to have a living will upon incapacity can create tremendous emotional and financial costs to your family.
A Health Care Proxy/Durable Medical Power of Attorney
While a living will is your legal declaration not to use life-sustaining measures, a health care proxy is designed to grant the person of your choice the legal power to make medical decisions for you, if you are unable to make them on your own. As with a durable general power of attorney, if you don't have a health care proxy, your closest blood relative would have the right to be appointed as guardian and would generally be called upon on to make decisions for you.
Communication Is Key
It is vitally important that you communicate the details of your estate plan to your children and periodically revise those documents as circumstances change (e.g., marriages, births, illnesses or a changing economy). When parents communicate with their children about their values and expectations for the family nest egg, children are more likely to be prepared when they receive it, and may also better understand their parents' motivations.
As you navigate these important steps and decisions, a Financial Advisor familiar with your family's unique circumstances can assist your attorney in creating a comprehensive estate plan that reflects your goals and the legacy you envision.
Article by Morgan Stanley and provided courtesy of Morgan Stanley Financial Advisor.
Susan S. Craig is a Financial Advisor in Tampa Office of Morgan Stanley Smith Barney LLC ("Morgan Stanley"). She can be reached by email at [email protected] or by telephone 813-227-2182. Her website is: https://www.morganstanleyFA.com/Susan.Craig
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