Posted by:  The Life and Legacy Planning Group

Five words no one ever wants to hear from their doctor: “Get your affairs in order.” Unfortunately, 58 percent of Americans do not have a will or trust, and it often requires a chronic disease or terminal illness diagnosis, or other life-changing event to prompt the estate planning process. Talk to your attorney about completing the documents below and follow these tips to protect your future and make the circumstances easier for your loved ones.

n the simplest terms, a Will is a statement directing how you want your assets handled when you die. You will need to designate an Executor to execute the instructions in your Will and to identify assets and their recipients. Homes, cars, and financial accounts are some of the assets you will need to address. Make sure to account for digital assets like e-mail, social media accounts, or online trading accounts and cryptocurrency.

A Will can also name a Guardian for your minor children. Without this document in place, a judge may determine who cares for your children after you pass. According to, only 36 percent of parents with minor children have a Will.

Living Trust
A Living Trust is a document that allows you to pass assets to a beneficiary and avoid the court administration of your estate after you die, called probate. It also allows for the management of your assets while you are incapacitated. This tool allows you to control who receives your assets as well as when your beneficiaries can access assets. A third party, known as a Trustee, manages the assets on your behalf. You can also use a Personal Property Memorandum to list your personal possessions and designate the recipients. One benefit of this memorandum is that you can update this document without having to return to your attorney to change your formal estate planning documents.

Power of Attorney for Property (Financial Power of Attorney)
A Power of Attorney for Property authorizes the named agent (Property Agent) to carry out certain financial matters on your behalf. This allows someone other than you to handle everyday financial transactions, such as paying your household bills, in the event you are incapacitated and unable to manage those matters on your own.

Power of Attorney for Healthcare
A Power of Attorney for Health Care designates an agent (Health Care Agent) to make health care decisions on your behalf when you are unable to make or communicate those decisions. Discuss your views on medical treatments and life-saving measures with your agents and any loved ones, so they fully understand the decisions you may be asking them to make.

HIPAA Authorization
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is a federal law that includes a provision prohibiting the release of your health care information to anyone not authorized to receive it. The HIPAA Authorization names HIPAA Agents, and those agents specifically have authority to receive that information and to talk to your physicians about any health or medical-related matters. They do not have authority to make health care decisions, however. That power is reserved to your health care agents.

Living Will
A living will sets forth your wishes for what medical treatments you do or do not want; it eases the burden on loved ones who may otherwise have to guess at your preferences. This document is not a POLST (Physicians’ Order for Life Sustaining Treatment), also sometimes referred to as a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) Order. A POLST is a medical document, not a legal document. Only your doctor should prepare a POLST for you.

In addition to making sure you have the basic estate planning documents prepared, there are a few other steps you can take to ensure that your family’s future will be secure.

  • Consider drafting a separate letter detailing any specific wishes for raising your children. This can allow you the opportunity to share the hopes and dreams that you have for your children and offer guidance about any assets that are left to them.
  • Gather important documents. Distribute copies to trusted loved ones and your attorney. Important documents may include: your social security card, birth certificate, tax returns, insurance policies (life, health, car, home), bank accounts, mortgage agreement, car title, pension and retirement plans, property titles or deeds, Will, Living Trust, investment portfolios, advance directives, contact information for estate planning attorney and accountant, marriage certificate, and utility account information.
  • Do not overlook planning for digital assets. Digital assets like e-mail, Amazon, PayPal, social media accounts or a business website all have different policies on how they handle accounts after death.
  • Consider making funeral or memorial plans ahead of time and accounting for the costs, since funerals can be expensive.
  • Check beneficiaries on retirement plans and insurance policies. These assets have designated beneficiaries, and they are generally not transferred through a Will or Living Trust, so ensure that your beneficiary designations accurately reflect your intentions.

Facing a chronic or terminal illness diagnosis is overwhelming. It is always best to plan before a life-changing event or diagnosis. We are here to help you by assisting you in carefully crafting an estate plan. These efforts will help to ensure that people follow your intentions and to lighten the load on your loved ones.