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The Documents You Need for Your Peace of Mind

When you’re living life and feeling well, thinking about what happens to your family if something happens to you might not be top of mind. Whether you need medical treatment or something else happens, your loved ones will suddenly become responsible for your affairs and may have to make decisions that need to be made with a ticking clock.

No matter your age or health status, there are essential documents you need to have in order just in case so you can make your loved ones’ lives a little easier. We've provided you with a sample list, though it's important to consult a lawyer for your specific needs. After all, it’s better to be prepared and not need them than to need them and not be prepared.

Will

A Last Will and Testament gives you the ability to dictate what happens to your estate in the event of your passing and who is in charge of distribution of assets. Without it, if your times comes, your estate goes into probate and your state's intestacy laws decide how your debts get paid and how your assets are distributed. This process can be a hassle for your family and can cost thousands of dollars to negotiate and handle. Make sure your Will is in a safe place where your family members can easily locate it.

Living Will

A Living Will differs from a Last Will and Testament in that it helps you decide who is in charge of your greatest asset: yourself. Should you become terminally ill or incapacitated and unable to consent to treatment of any kind, your Living Will designates a power of attorney who is responsible for giving consent and making those decisions on your behalf.

Similarly, you may want to sign a Do Not Resuscitate order. This means that in case of extreme illness or incapacitation, it gives doctors the authority to not use life support with your permission beforehand. This lets you maintain control of decisions that may otherwise end up in a physician’s or your family members’ hands.

Powers of Attorney

You may not realize you need more than one power of attorney but you do: one for finances and one for healthcare obligations. Your healthcare power of attorney is in charge of consenting to medical procedures or treatment on your behalf should you become unfit to consent yourself. This person should also be included on a HIPPA release form, meaning they can have access to your medical history and legally receive information about your condition from your care provider. Your financial power of attorney is the person designated to have access to your finances in case you become unable to pay bills and manage your financial affairs.

Letter of instruction or intent

A letter of instruction or intent gives your executors an explanation of how you want your assets and affairs managed. This should include instructions on pet care if you have one, digital passwords for paying bills or maintaining accounts, location of deeds and other paperwork, a list of asset distribution specifics, Social Security and other identification information, bank account information, and anything else important you want to include. While this document is not legally binding, it can be very helpful in preventing a free-for-all or disputes between family and beneficiaries.

Funeral Plan

One of the most stressful situations is planning a funeral for a family member. There are a lot of decisions to make in a very short amount of time. Having a plan in place or outlined can help you family plan this event a lot easier. (If you don’t want a funeral, you should also let family members know). If you already have a plot reserved for you and other family members, make sure your family has a copy of the agreement is accessible and knows where the plot is located.

Copy of Marriage licenses and/or divorce decrees

Before your spouse can claim any assets, they have to prove they are indeed your spouse. Even if you’ve been married for 50 years, your spouse will need to provide a copy of your marriage license before they can legally claim anything. Similarly, a decree of divorce is necessary to outline possible alimony, property agreements,  or the division of assets that may be questioned should you pass.

Keep these in the same place you keep your other estate plan documents so they’re easy for loved ones to locate in case they’re needed.

Designated Beneficiary Accounts

Designating beneficiaries to manage your accounts is essential to providing your loved ones with peace of mind. Putting a person in charge of your bank, retirement, investment, or other accounts makes it a lot easier for claims to be filed and benefits to be received.

Financial Accounts Lists

Have a list of the accounts and bills you maintain so your beneficiaries and loved ones can maintain them for you if necessary. Make sure those in charge of your affairs can access those accounts and know how and when to pay bills to maintain your financial obligations. If any services need to be canceled, they’ll need to know who to call to take care of it. Making sure your accounts are transferable can keep them out of probate, as well.

Tax returns

Even after you’re gone, you still have to pay taxes on any income you may have earned in the year prior. Keeping records of your taxes is important for financial planning and in case of an audit, but can come in handy should you become unable to file your taxes. They can also help your accountant or next of kin file your tax returns in the event of your passing. 

In Summary

Having these documents organized and up-to-date can help your loved ones make decisions on your behalf or settle your assets in event of an emergency. For a full list of documents you might need, contact a lawyer who specializes in estate planning. They can help you file the documents you need and find a plan that works for your needs. Make sure your family or beneficiaries know where to find these important documents if they need to. Give yourself and your loved ones some peace of mind.

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