Life Estate Planning
The Five Most Important Estate Planning Documents
1.
Will - A will provides instructions for distributing your assets to your family and other beneficiaries upon your death.  An attorney can customize its provisions to meet your
needs.  A personal representative (also know as "executor") is appointed to pay final expenses and taxes, and distribute your assets according to your wishes.  If you have
minor children, a will is the only way you can designate a guardian for them.  

To become effective, a will must be filed in your county probate court after your death. Probate is the legal process of presenting your Will to the Court after your death to
authenticate it, appoint your Executor, and supervise the distribution of estate assets.  Your Executor must be appointed by the Court in order to collect and distribute your
assets as stated in your Will.  However, because it is a legal process, there are many steps that must be followed before your estate can be distributed.

Because a will does not take effect until you die, it cannot provide for the management of your assets if you become incapacitated.  Therefore, it is important to have other
estate planning documents if you should become incapacitated.
2.
Health Care Power of Attorney - It is important that you give your family the tools and directions selected by you, to help you if you cannot help yourself make
health care decisions.  It is important that you decide who will be the person to decide for you.  If you don't, a person who you may not have selected, could be appointed by
the court to make all health care decisions, including a decision on whether to terminate life support systems.  

A durable power of attorney for health care can be invaluable for avoiding family conflicts and possible court intervention if you should become unable to make your own
health care decisions.
3.
Living Will - A living will document expresses your intentions regarding the use of life-sustaining measures in the event of a terminal illness.  It expresses what you want
but does not give anyone the authority to speak for you.  In some states, this document may be combined with a health care power of attorney.
4.
Financial Power of Attorney - A Financial Power of Attorney is a legal document in which you name another person to act on your behalf.  This person is called
your "agent"  If you become sick or disabled, either temporarily or permanently, who will make the decisions for you?  A Power of Attorney allows you to appoint someone you
trust to handle your affairs if you cannot do so.  It is a much better way to allow a trusted loved one the legal ability to make decision for you.  Adding their name to your bank
account is a dangerous substitute.

You can give your appointed agent limited or broad powers to pay your bills or make other financial decisions.  Without a Power of Attorney, your family may have to file what
is known as a "Guardianship Proceeding" and have a judge appoint someone to make decisions for you.  This process involves the court, several lawyers, doctors and costs
at least $3,500 (to $50,000) over a number of months.  A Power of Attorney costs approximately $150-$200.
5.
Revocable Living Trust - There are many types of trusts with different purposes, each accomplishing a variety of goals,.  A Revocable Living
Trust is one type of trust often used in an estate plan.  A Trust is a contract between the Grantor (the person who creates the trust), The Trustee (one
who controls the trust) and the beneficiaries (those entitled to benefit from the trust).  You, as Grantor, determine how the trust will be operated by the
Trustee and who benefits, how and when.  It permits you to keep total control and access to all of your assets during your lifetime, and provides for
distribution of your assets to your beneficiaries at your death.  We often refer to a revocable living trust as your "Book of Instructions."  A well-established
advantage to Revocable Living Trusts is the avoidance of probate, which is required if you us a will to distribute your assets after death.  Other
advantages of Revocable Living Trusts, when properly drafted can include:

  • Asset protection for your spouse after your death;
  • Special needs planning for disabled beneficiaries;
  • Asset management and protection for children who are not proficient with handling money;
  • Protection of assets from a spouse's subsequent remarriage after your death;
  • Disability planning in the event you become disabled prior to death;
  • Asset protection for your child if his or her marriage should fail to ensure your assets are not part of a divorce settlement;
  • Keeping your affairs private (as opposed to open for public review in probate);
  • No court intervention required (handled entirely by the Trustee you name in accordance with your detailed instructions).

Very few revocable living trusts provide these benefits.  Only a qualified Estate Planning and Elder Law Attorney will know how to incorporate these
protections into your plan.  While a Revocable Living Trust has many advantages, it does not protect your assets from a nursing home, lawsuits, divorce,
bankruptcy or other credits.  

For more information about how you can protect your assets from nursing homes, please contact our
office.
If you fail to plan, you can plan to fail
The intent of having a reliable estate plan is to eliminate family conflicts and strife during
stressful situations.  It is our goal to help our clients understand the essentials of estate
planning by encouraging them to attend one of our two-hour complimentary workshops.
Click
here to sign up for a workshop.

Regardless of your age or your net worth, it is wise to have an estate plan to protect your
loved ones and your assets during your lifetime as well as after your death. At minimum, you
should consider working with a qualified elder law attorney to create an estate plan that
meets your goals.  

Listed below are five important estate planning documents.  
Estate Planning & Elder Law Center   |  10 Pinckney Colony Road, Suite 300   
Bluffton, South Carolina 29909  
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