I need a Will

Accepting you need a will is the first step, but an experienced attorney will help you understand that you truly need an estate plan – no matter the current status of your finances. Establishing your estate requires three necessary documents: a last will and testament, a healthcare proxy, and a power of attorney.

Will

Your last will and testament designates where your assets will go. It names beneficiaries (which may be people or institutions) as well as an executor, who will handle your will through the probate process, and a trustee, who will handle the distribution or management of your estate afterwards. It can also include provisions for the care of your children, including the appointment of a guardian.

Healthcare Proxy

A healthcare proxy allows you to designate someone to make healthcare decisions for you. This is not an unqualified delegation of power. The healthcare proxy will only go into effect if you become incapacitated or otherwise unable to make decisions. Your physician will decide whether you are capable of making your own healthcare decisions. You can also include instructions about specific scenarios in this document. The healthcare proxy will be bound by these instructions up to the point at which there is no clear indication of your wishes. This isn’t, then, a document granting total control over your life to one person. Instead, it names someone who can act based on your stated wishes and what he or she knows of your beliefs.

You should give your physician a copy of your healthcare proxy document as soon as you’ve completed it.

Power of Attorney

Power of attorney, like a healthcare proxy, is a designation triggered if and when you become incapable of making sound decisions on your own. Whereas a healthcare proxy will be making stressful but limited decisions, someone with power of attorney could be facing a relatively mundane but more time-consuming job. This person will take care of your household expenses, mortgage payments, other bills, and the proper deposit of incoming funds.

This should be a durable (or permanent) power of attorney – temporary power of attorney documents serve in other, less common scenarios.

Failure to engage in comprehensive estate planning could lead to serious concerns late in life – if, for example, your mental powers start to fade or if your body begins to fail you – and could be disastrous if you pass away unexpectedly, leaving all of your assets to be divvied up according to New York State regulations, rather than your wishes.

You can avoid these scenarios – easily – by talking through your finances and priorities with an estate planning attorney. While it might at first not seem like a subject you want to broach, it’s never too early to start planning for the end of your life, and doing so can give you immediate, lasting peace of mind.

What decisions do you need to make when creating a will?

  1. Decide what property to include in your will.
  2. Decide who will inherit your property.
  3. Choose an executor to handle your estate.
  4. Choose a guardian for your children.
  5. Choose someone to manage minor children’s property.

Using an online will-making service:

These may be cheaper but are typically broad, one-size-fits-all forms, which may leave more chances for the document to be challenged in court after you die. Additionally, these templates may not allow you to nominate a guardian or create a trust (testamentary trust) through your will.

Wills must be shown valid through probate in Surrogate’s Court. Online services and self-completion may not meet all specific statutes and execution formalities to be found valid.

What financial documents do you need to complete a will?

You should have a list of all your assets as well as have knowledge of whether you have life insurance, annuities, 401(k) plans, pension plans, or other retirement benefits. You will want to know who the designated beneficiaries of these various retirement benefits are.

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