Creating a good estate plan is an essential task for everyone to undertake. A plan should be formed that covers the contingencies which may occur in life — within reason. After all, it only makes sense to ensure that you will be adequately taken care of if you should become incapacitated, and that when you pass, your assets are distributed to whom you prefer in the way that you want so that your descendants may benefit from your forethought. So, in broad terms, I feel that (almost) every estate plan should include the following.
A Medical Power of Attorney (also known as an “Advance Medical Directive”): These legal documents ensure that the person you designate to handle your healthcare decisions should you become incapacitated is the one permitted to do so.
A Living Will (also called “End of Life Instructions”): This is a statement that is frequently included in your Medical Power of Attorney and describes your wishes in the event of terminal illness or persistent vegetative state (colloquially speaking, being in a coma), when you are unable to communicate — particularly as to what forms of life support or medical interventions you may wish for (or against).
A Trust: These legal entities are permitted to own your assets, whether you are still living or among the departed, and may be managed according to your express instructions. These have many uses. Most common among them are avoidance of probate (court-supervised distribution of a deceased person’s assets) and arranging how the assets are used to benefit descendants through the course of their lives. There are also specialized trusts that can protect your assets during your lifetime from your creditors or Medicaid Long-Term Care spenddowns.
A Last Will and Testament: The “big kahuna” of estate planning. If a person does nothing else for their estate at death, a will should be prepared. These are, essentially, legally enforceable descriptions of your wishes regarding what should be done with your possessions after you die. If you don’t leave a will, the Virginia probate laws will determine who gets what. If you have stepchildren who you would like to receive something, they probably won’t unless you include them in a will. It’s essential to draw up a will after you get married, and to revise it when you divorce, when you have a child or when someone who would have benefited from it passes away before you do. In fact, there are more reasons to form a will than I can cover here.
If you want to plan for such a future for your estate, visit a local estate planning and elder law attorney. Estate planning can be complicated, taking into account legal and financial issues, taxes and the family legacy you want to leave behind. Contacting a firm that dedicates significant time and energy to this specific practice of law is recommended.