It is important to have a will or trust in place before something happens, and it’s too late!
Last Will and Testament. A Will allows you to specify who gets what upon your death. It names a Personal Representative to manage your estate when you pass, and the courts will honor your will (provided it is properly executed) and give the person you’ve appointed to be your Personal Representative the necessary documentation to handle your estate affairs. A Will does not avoid probate, but it does make it easier to get the ball rolling and ensures that your estate will to pass the way you wish for it to pass.
Trusts. A living trust does what a Last Will and Testament can do plus a whole lot more. When you create a living trust, you will basically place your assets into the trust (which is called “funding” the trust), and then you will name Successor Trustees who will step into your shoes to manage your affairs, financial and otherwise, during your incapacity and/or after your death. Since the Trust will own your assets (but this doesn’t change anything about how you manage your affairs) when you pass, your Successor Trustee will have control over all of the assets owned by the Trust and can carry out your wishes without court intervention, otherwise known as Probate. This saves time and money in the management of your estate during life and after you pass and protects your privacy. The trust can also provide creditor protection for your beneficiaries.
Powers of Attorney. These are useful tools to have and can be crucial in making sure things are taken care of in the event that you are alive but unable to handle your own affairs, either on a temporary basis or permanently. A health care/mental health care power of attorney allows you to choose who will speak for you regarding matters of your health if you cannot speak for yourself. This will be the person to whom your health care providers can speak about your health care needs. A general durable power of attorney is generally used for financial matters such as accessing funds to pay bills for you during your incapacity.
Living Wills. A living will is a document which illustrates what your wishes are regarding artificial life-prolonging procedures. It is, essentially, how you exercise your right to request or refuse life-prolonging medical treatment when you do not have the ability to speak for yourself any longer, and importantly, it takes the burden off of loved ones of having to make the decision for you.