Basic Estate Planning

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Estate planning worksheet | Anchorage, AK AttorneysA recent study revealed what many estate planning attorneys know: the majority (over 55 percent) of Americans die without a will. A simple estate plan includes a standard set of legal documents: a healthcare power of attorney, a financial (also known as a durable) power of attorney, a living will, and a last will and testament. These are not, however, the only legal documents available to protect families. A recent Forbes magazine article lays out several ways you can protect your family by implementing simple, yet effective, legal documents. 

Powers of attorney (POA), healthcare and financial (rurable): A person gives another person the authority to make decisions for either healthcare or finances on that person’s behalf. The two documents create “agents,” or attorneys in fact (which is a different designation than an attorney at law). In the healthcare power of attorney, the agent may make decisions about medical care and treatment if the person is unable to do so himself (for example, in the event of a coma). A financial POA becomes an active document immediately after signing. In a financial POA, the agent is given the authority to make financial decisions on behalf of the person. It is important to keep the financial POA under lock and key in order to avoid the possibility of fraud or theft. With both the financial and healthcare powers of attorney, make sure to tell your agents how to access the documents in case of an emergency.

Living will: Commonly known as a “DNR,” this instrument usually works along with a healthcare POA but functions very differently. It only applies in a very narrow set of circumstances, namely, in the event that you require life-sustaining nourishment or hydration or are in a permanently unconscious state (like a coma). A healthcare POA is not enough to address this situation, so individuals should consider whether having a living will makes sense for them.

Last will and testament: You can designate an executor (the person who carries out your will’s instructions), choose guardian and custodian for your minor children, and determine the distribution of your personal and real property through this legal document. A will only takes effect upon a person’s death and can be changed as many times as necessary before a person’s passing. The document must pass through probate court in order to be administered. For those who have children under the age of eighteen, having a will and a designated guardian is particularly important.

This is only a very basic overview, but we hope it is helpful. If you have questions about choosing the right estate planning options for your family, please call the attorneys at our Anchorage office.

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About Jenn Messick

I am an attorney practicing at M/V Alaska Law, an Anchorage, AK law firm helping clients all throughout Alaska navigate legal issues in divorce, family law, probate, and bankruptcy. I'm an outdoors person who enjoys hiking, skiing, hunting, spending time with family, and the beautiful scenery in Alaska. Jenn Messick's Google+ Profile

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