Protect Your Legacy
One of the most thoughtful legacies that anyone can leave is peace of mind. No one wants to mar the memory of a loved one with “I think this is what Mom wanted but she never said” doubts. You can prevent that with the right advance directives and documents:
7. A will. Over half of the adult population in this country dies without a will. This is not just senseless; it’s downright irresponsible. If you die intestate, or without a will, says Karin Barkhorn, an estate planning attorney at Bryan Cave LLP, “the state determines how your assets are dispersed.” What’s more, the government could end up collecting a lot more tax than necessary.
8. A living will. Also known as a health care directive, a living will specifies what medical measures should be used to keep you alive if you are incapacitated. The agonizing Terri Schiavo case in 2005 showed how the absence of a living will can rip a family apart. Health care providers are generally required to comply with the wishes you describe in your living will.
9. Durable power of attorney. This document authorizes a loved one to make financial decisions on your behalf should you become unable. It allows someone to renew your CD at the bank, pay bills, sell stock or even sell your home or business, based on the agent’s determination of what is best for you. “If you are in the hospital and cannot pay your bills or sign a check, someone will have to do it,” says Raasch. “If any of your assets are held in your name only, your spouse can’t touch that money unless the court appoints him guardian. The emotional turmoil of your loved ones having to go to court will only add to your misery.”
Although it’s best to have these documents prepared by a family-law attorney, you can cover the basics on your own with software such as Quicken’s WillMaker Plus or Kiplinger’s WillPower.