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A Senior's Guide to Estate Planning

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Ideally, as we get older, we are able to pass on many familiar responsibilities to others, such as home and yard maintenance, snow removal, and much of the cleaning, freeing up more time for activities we enjoy. This is one of the great aspects of living in a community like Brightwater Senior Living.

However, one responsibility it’s essential every senior completes is their estate planning. This may sound like something that’s only necessary for someone with a large amount of wealth, but that’s not true. Planning your estate will help you ensure not only that your will reflects your true desires, but that transitioning your legacy is smooth for your loved ones. This is also the time to assign a durable power of attorney and create an advance health care directive for seniors, so you can be sure your wishes are carried out should anything happen to you. Read on for a quick guide to the key steps in planning your or your loved one’s estate.

Revocable Trust or Will

It’s important to have one and sometimes even both of these documents to show how you would like your assets distributed among friends and family. Both have the same basic purpose, but there are some key differences between the two:

Trust

The revocable trust offers the benefit of not requiring your assets to go through the probate process, which can be both costly and time consuming, depending on the state you live in. Instead, a trusted person whom you have designated as trustee will be responsible for distributing your assets, in accordance with your wishes. For more on trusts, read this helpful guide from the National Consumer Law Center.

Will

The will also explains where you would like your assets to go, but it places the responsibility of distributing them in the hands of the judge presiding over your estate. Wills are often less expensive than trusts and may make more sense if you don’t have a large estate. Wills also allow you to disinherit members of your family, although different states have different laws on this. Drawbacks include the details of your estate becoming part of the public record and the requirement for you to hire a probate attorney – only California and Wisconsin allow you to forgo an attorney in probate court. For more on wills, read this article from AARP.

Financial Power of Attorney

The financial power of attorney is a document you sign giving control of your finances to someone you trust, should you become incapacitated. This person will then be responsible for paying your medical bills and any other expenses that need handling, such as utilities, your mortgage, and car payments.

A Living Will or Advance Directive for Health Care

This legal document will help inform your doctor on how you would like to be cared for should you become incapacitated, including whether you should be resuscitated. Part of creating a living will or advance directive is to choose someone to take on the role of durable medical or health care power of attorney. This person will be able to legally make tough medical decisions on your behalf, should they not be covered by your living will/advance directive.

Consult a Lawyer

A lawyer or barrister isn’t required to plan your estate, but it can certainly be helpful. Many states have differing laws regarding wills, trusts, and powers of attorney, and a lawyer can help you navigate them. They can also help you cover all your bases and make sure your forms are completed perfectly, so no complications arise during a difficult time. For help finding a lawyer in your area, visit the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys website.