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New Year’s Resolution #1: Get Estate Documents in Order

New Year’s Resolution #1: Get Estate Documents in Order

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The New Year is the perfect time to plan for the future. While your energy is high and your spirits are up, be sure to fit estate planning into your schedule this month. Getting it out of the way now means you won’t have to worry about it for the rest of the year. The following are key documents you should prepare, review, then place in secure storage.

  • Living Will. This written statement details your desires should you become incapacitated and unable to make medical decisions for yourself. The more detailed, the better. Remember, a living will should always take into consideration any known medical conditions, and any advanced health care directives you want carried out.
  • Healthcare Proxy. This is very similar to a power of attorney. It’s a legal instrument that identifies the individual you want to make medical decisions for you. It should not be confused with a power of attorney as a healthcare proxy is very narrow in scope.
  • Durable Power of Attorney. This is crucial and it must be updated regularly. It should clearly specify what decisions you grant the agent, i.e. over finances, healthcare, etc. In Illinois, there are changes to the Illinois Power of Attorney Act this year. These changes include:
    • They may not be witnessed by the principal’s psychologist. This extends the prohibition on physicians, nurses, dentists, optometrists, etc. who are also prohibited from serving as witnesses.
    • It’s now possible to clearly identify the successor agent on the statutory short form
    • There is now an option for the agent to view medical records when making medical decisions.
    • Agents may apply for government benefits on behalf of the principal provide there is not an appointed administrator or executor.
    • Decisional capacity is more clearly defined on the statutory short form. This is aligned with the Illinois Health Care Surrogate Act.
  • Beneficiary Forms. IRA’s and 401(k)s should be prepared for transfer with the appropriate documentation.
  • Asset & Account Listing. Make sure all of your assets are clearly listed and that passwords and account details are easily discoverable.
  • Trusts. Trusts are valuable tools that protect your valuables. By setting up a trust with your estate attorney now, you can ensure that your surviving family won’t get hit with estate taxes or be left bearing the burdens of your debts. Moreover, a trust can ensure your surviving spouse has the income they need to maintain their present lifestyle as best as possible.

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