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The Five Estate Planning Documents that Everyone Should Have

At Posternock Apell, PC, we provide New Jersey and Pennsylvania residents with quality estate planning legal representation. When you are considering the best methods for handling your estate, it is important that you understand your options and opportunities.

At Posternock Apell, our estate planning lawyers strongly believe in meeting with our clients to ensure that they are well-informed on what lies ahead and that they are setting up themselves and their loved ones for success. We have gathered the five most important documents to consider to help inform you throughout your estate planning process:

Will – Who should receive your property upon your passing?

A Last Will and Testament is a basic estate planning document that allows an individual to provide instructions to an executor as to distribute the individual’s property upon his or her death. Wills come in a variety of shapes and forms and must be designed with the individual’s needs in mind. In fact, they may do more than merely allocate a decedent’s estate amongst recipients. Depending on your needs, a Will may, among other things, include guardianship provisions for minor children, or even discuss wishes for final disposition. The formalities of what makes a Will effective, however, are detailed. For this reason, consulting with an estate planning lawyer about the most appropriate form, content, and execution of a Will can prevent problems during probate.

2. Trust – Can you save money on fees and costs?

A Revocable Trust, also sometimes referred to as a Living Trust, is an estate planning device that holds the individual’s assets for their own benefit as well as the benefit of their chosen beneficiaries. The person forming the trust (the grantor or settlor) then names a successor trustee, whose role is to distribute the assets upon his or her passing according to the instructions written in the trust. The distributions from trusts can be drafted very specifically allowing for a myriad of opportunities. More importantly for many, assets held in a trust do not require probate in order to be transferred to beneficiaries. Probate is a lengthy, public, and expensive process. By forming a trust and ensuring assets are properly transferred to the trust, a decedent’s estate can avoid the probate process altogether resulting in privacy, expediency, and saving tens of thousands of dollars.

3. Financial Power of Attorney – Who controls your finances in the case of an emergency?

Certain things can arise requiring estate management before someone’s passing. A Financial Power of Attorney allows an individual to appoint an agent to make financial decisions for the individual if they become incapacitated, either permanently, or if only temporarily. A Financial Power of Attorney allows the individual’s agent to access financial accounts, pay bills, and use the individual’s money for the individual’s benefit while he or she is incapacitated. Without a Financial Power of Attorney, an individual’s relatives must file for a conservatorship of the estate in order to control the individual’s finances. This can result in legal costs and delays in accessing the individual’s assets.

4. Advanced Health Care Directive – Who will make medical decisions for you in case of an emergency?

Similar to a Financial Power of Attorney, an Advance Health Care Directive allows an individual to appoint an agent to make healthcare decisions for the individual in the event of his or her incapacity. An Advance Health Care Directive provides the agent with the ability to make decisions regarding medical treatment, allows the agent the ability to receive medical information from health care providers, and makes end-of-life decisions for the incapacitated individual. All according to the individual’s express intentions. For example, an Advance Health Care Directive allows the individual to communicate whether they wish to be kept on, or removed from, life support. Without an Advance Health Care Directive, an individual’s family may have to file for a conservatorship of the person to obtain legal authority to make these important decisions and may not have the benefit of the individual’s own input in the difficult decisions they are required to make.

5. Guardianship Designations – Who will take care of a minor child if you pass away?

Guardianship provisions allow a parent of minor children to name an agent to be appointed guardian of minor children at the parents’ passing. These designations provide the court with instructions as to who should be legally responsible for the minors. Without a clear designation, the court will be left to decide who should care for the minors with little regard to a decedent’s intent or relationships with the selected guardian.

If you or someone you know is facing a legal challenge, we invite you to call one of our conveniently located offices in Moorestown or Browns Mills, New Jersey, and Philadelphia, PA, or fill out our online contact form to request a phone conference.