What is an estate plan?
A standard estate plan includes a Will, a healthcare directive/living will, and a durable power of attorney.
A will is not complicated or expensive. You do not need to be rich to have a will. Even if you have minimal assets, a will ensures your property is distributed according to your wishes, you select your burial wishes, appoint guardians for minor children, select the person you trust to manage your affairs after your death, and so much more.
A will does not cover all your assets. Any asset that you own with a pre-selected beneficiary – like insurance policies naming your spouse or your children as beneficiaries, or a retirement account naming your spouse as a beneficiary, or a property you own with another person with the right of survivorship – passes directly to your selected beneficiary outside of the will. The will covers all other assets that form your estate.
In your durable power of attorney (POA) you appoint an agent to act on your behalf when you are unable to do so yourself. The POA gives your agent the power to transact real estate, enter into financial transactions, and make other legal decisions as if he or she were you. This type of power of attorney terminates at your death and you are free to revoke this type of POA at any time prior to death.
A health care directive/ living will designates another individual (typically a spouse or family member) to make important healthcare decisions on your behalf in the event of incapacity.
Of course, you should select someone you trust, who shares your views, and who would likely recommend a course of action you would agree with to act as your power of attorney and health care agent. They do not have to be the same person.
As with all appointments, a backup or alternate guardian, power of attorney and/or health care agent should be named as well. Absent these designations, a court will appoint a person to handle your affairs.
With a standard estate plan (a Will, a healthcare directive/living will, and a durable power of attorney) your financial and non-financial end of life affairs will be in order and according to your wishes and you protect your family.