Living the busy and often chaotic lifestyle of a first responder is a recipe for estate planning neglect. And to those without experience in this particular area of finance, it’s sometimes easier to turn a blind eye than get educated about exactly which documents you need to save your heirs a lot of heartache and potential squabbling. Bad idea. Don’t make them guess what you want. Tell them!
According to the AARP website, here are the four legal documents you should have in order for your estate to be disposed of efficiently upon death.
1. Will. This is the basic legal document that describes who gets your belongings, who is in charge of distribution and who will be guardian of any minor children or disabled family members. Die without a will and the state will make these decisions at considerable cost to survivors. Trust us – not what you want.
2. Durable Power of Attorney. Should you become disabled or incapacitated, it requires protracted legal proceedings for anyone else to be able to access your bank accounts, securities, property, or to take any action in your name – unless you have assigned a durable power of attorney to someone. Do it!
3. Advance Directive. An advanced directive describes what medical decisions should be made in the event you are unable to make them yourself. Falling into a coma is one example. This directive tells what steps should be taken to to keep you alive and/or designates who should make the decision to withdraw life support if you are physically or mentally unable to decide for yourself.
4. Letter of Instructions. Though not a binding legal document, consider writing an informal letter describing your personal and financial situation and expressing your specific estate planning wishes to survivors. Include special requests here, as well as a list of all financial resources. This keeps your heirs from having to go on a wild goose chase.
If you do nothing else towards estate planning for the day you are gone, at least tend to these four documents. Your heirs will thank you for it.