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Make estate planning part of your spring cleaning

Now that the spring conditions are finally returning to Minnesota after a long and particularly cold winter, people are thinking about their favorite warm weather activities from fishing and gardening to softball and swimming. Still others, however, are thinking about the chores they will need to get done, including their annual spring cleaning.

Interestingly, some experts are now urging people to take a different approach to their spring cleaning, perhaps viewing it not as a time to tidy their kitchens and organize their closets, but rather as a time to tidy their finances and organize their estate planning.

While this may seem like a somewhat unnecessary or perhaps overly complex prospect, experts urge people to remember that estate planning is not just reserved for the fabulously wealthy and that there are roughly four documents comprising a comprehensive estate plan. 

A simple will:This document can help ensure that a person's exact wishes concerning everything from their assets to the guardianship of any minor children are honored and that the courts will not have to be called upon to decide the matter. This can not only save both time and money, but also grant the person much-needed peace of mind.

It should be noted, however, that experts advise sitting down with a legal professional to draft a simple will rather than relying on online templates, which have been invalidated in seemingly countless court challenges across the nation.

Durable power of attorney: This document appoints a designated person as your "agent," meaning they have the power to make financial and legal decisions on your behalf in the event of your incapacity. Experts indicate that this appointment of an agent should only be made after careful consideration of all factors (money management skills, trustworthiness, etc.) and that a person should actually consider appointment of a backup to ensure they are fully covered.

Living will/advanced health care directive: This document allows a person to outline in detail their wishes concerning end-of-life care. To illustrate, they could include a do-not-resuscitate order or specify the conditions under which they want to be kept alive. Experts do advise that people take the time to discuss the matter with family members beforehand to avoid any surprises further down the road.

Health care proxy: This document is similar to a power of attorney in that it gives a designated person the power to make medical decisions on your behalf in the event of your incapacity. As with a living will, experts recommend people discuss this matter with family members ahead of time and make sure the appointed person is up to the task.

Consider speaking with an experienced legal professional to learn more about these documents and other valuable estate planning instruments that can grant you peace of mind about the future.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, "Four estate planning documents that everyone should have," Tom Lauricella, April 20, 2014

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