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  • Writer's pictureMargot G. Birke

Did you make reviewing your Estate Plan one of your New Year's resolutions?

The New Year is always a good time to take a look at your estate plan to make sure it

is up to date. It has been shown that less than half of people actually have yet to put

any estate documents into place and those who have done it may have outdated

documents. Typically, documents that were created when your children were born

may need updating 20, 30 or 40 years later, after your family and financial situation

have changed entirely.

There are five essential estate planning documents you should have in place. Read

more about each document, in order of importance, below:

The most important estate planning document is a durable power of attorney.

This document is used during life and appoints one or more people you trust to

handle your finances and legal matters in the event of your incapacity, whether

through illness, dementia, or an accident, and whether the incapacity is temporary

or permanent. Without a durable power of attorney document a family member may

need to petition the probate court for conservatorship. This alternative can be costly

and time consuming.

Next, a health care proxy document appoints an agent to make health care

decisions when and if you become incapacitated. Unlike the durable power of

attorney, it only takes effect when a doctor determines that you are unable to make

decisions yourself. This document appoints one person at a time so that there is a

single point-person dealing with medical professionals.

The important thing to remember with a health care proxy document is to make

sure your agent knows what decisions you would to be made. This can be done

through the medical directive and having a conversation with your agent. For help

to begin the conversation, telephone our office at 978-465-5407 to receive a copy of

an advance directive tool kit.

A HIPAA Patient Authorization is a separate document that gives access to your

medical records. The HIPAA laws do not allow medical practitioners to release

medical information to anyone, even a spouse, without a release. This document

allows you to list more than one person to share information with.

Your Last Will and Testament determines who will get your stuff when you die

and who will be in charge of paying your bills, filing your tax returns, and gathering

your stuff and distribution it according to your wishes.

Assets without a named beneficiary or not held with a joint owner will make up

your probate estate – only what you own in your name alone passes under the

terms of your will. In addition, your will determines the distribution of your tangible

personal property or your “stuff”. Typically, you can attach a memo indicating whom

you would like to get what.

Lastly, you may want to consider putting a revocable trust or “living” trust in place.

A trust is a document in which one or more people, the trustees, manage property or

investments for the benefit of one or more people, the beneficiaries. This document

will allow your estate to avoid probate by naming successor beneficiaries and

outlining how you would like your assets to be distributed.

As you can see, most of these documents are more important to have in place during

your lifetime as opposed to after life. Putting your estate plan in place or updating

your current estate plan will ensure that you and your family are taken care of in

any event.


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