Category: Living Will

Estate Planning for Veterans and Active Military Is Important

Estate Planning for Veterans and Active Military Is Important

Your dedication to your country is unwavering as a veteran or active military service member. While you’re committed to your duty, you must protect yourself and your loved ones and preserve your legacy. Veterans and active military personnel can and should create an estate plan to match their unique needs. Based on Trust & Will’s article, “Estate Planning for Veterans & Active Military,” we look at why estate planning for veterans and active military personnel is so important.

Military life is marked by unpredictability and uncertainty for you and your family, making estate planning a vital aspect of preparing for the future. Many individuals have plans to distribute funds and appoint trusted loved ones to handle medical and financial matters if the unthinkable happens. Estate planning is essential to help provide for your loved ones if you pass away or are incapacitated. Knowing that your family will be cared for can give you peace of mind.

A will serves as a cornerstone of your estate plan, allowing you to:

  • Protect Your Family: Specify guardianship for minor children, ensuring they’re cared for by trusted individuals in your absence.
  • Distribute Assets Seamlessly: Designate beneficiaries and outline asset distribution instructions, including real estate, retirement and financial accounts, sentimental items, and other property.
  • Plan for the Unexpected: Outline your preferences for medical care and end-of-life decisions to prepare for unforeseen circumstances.

In the military, adaptability is critical, but so is ensuring your affairs are managed in your absence. Powers of Attorney enable you to:

  • Delegate Your Decisions: If you are incapacitated, designate trusted individuals to handle your legal, financial, and medical decisions.
  • Manage Your Affairs: Maintain continuity in managing assets, paying bills, and making critical decisions, even during deployments or periods of incapacity.
  • Mitigate Financial Risk: Protect against financial exploitation and past-due bills by appointing reliable agents to act in your best interests.

For military families, asset protection and efficient wealth transfer are paramount. Trusts offer a range of benefits, including:

  • Asset Preservation: Safeguard assets during incapacity or deployment, ensuring financial stability for your family.
  • Probate Avoidance: Streamline the distribution of assets to beneficiaries, bypassing the lengthy and costly probate process.
  • Tax Efficiency: Minimize estate taxes and maximize tax savings, preserving more of your hard-earned assets for future generations.

Your dedication and sacrifice are unmatched as a veteran or active military service member. That is why estate planning is so important for veterans and active military personnel. By prioritizing estate planning and including will, trust, and power of attorney strategies, you can protect your loved ones and preserve your legacy for generations. Consult with an experienced estate planning attorney for peace of mind. If you would like to learn more about planning for veterans, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Trust & Will “Estate Planning for Veterans & Active Military,”

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Last Will and Testament is different from Living Will

Last Will and Testament is different from Living Will

A Last Will and Testament is completely different from a Living Will, no matter where you live. Despite its title, “Do you understand the difference between a Living Will and a Last Will in Idaho?” this recent Coeur d’Alene/Post Falls Press article applies to all states.

A last will is the document most people think of when considering estate planning. Often called simply a “will,” this is the estate planning document used to give instructions about what should happen to your assets and possessions when you die and who you want to carry out your wishes in the document.

The will is only effective after you have died.

The person managing your estate after you pass is known as a “Personal Representative” or executor or executrix. Some states only use the phrase personal representative. However, the tasks are the same. Your executor (or your estate planning attorney) files your last will with the county probate court for review, ensuring that the will complies with your state’s laws and getting approval to serve as the executor. This is called “probating the will.”

There are ways to avoid having your entire estate go through probate. An experienced estate planning attorney may recommend trusts and other strategies.

The last will is also used to name a guardian for minor children, which is why every young family needs a last will, even if they don’t have a large estate. Doing so guides the court system and the family about your wishes for your children.

How is the last will different from a living will? It’s a completely different document, serving an entirely different purpose.

A living will is used while you are still alive and serves a very narrow set of circumstances. A living will is used to state what medical treatments you do or don’t want to be administered if you are terminally ill and death is imminent or if you are in what is called a “persistent vegetative state.” This means your body is alive, but your brain is no longer functioning.

In the living will, you can state whether or not you will receive CPR, artificial or natural hydration and nutrition, mechanical respiration and any other means used to keep your body alive. The Living Will is often used with another document, known as a Physician’s Order for Scope of Treatment, or POST, regarding options for medical treatments.

Understanding that a last will and testament and a living will are different is good starting point for your planning. An estate planning attorney can prepare a living will and other documents, including a Power of Attorney and a Health Care Power of Attorney, all of which are needed to protect you while you are living and a last will. If you would like to learn more about a will and living will, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Coeur d’Alene/Post Falls Press (Nov. 19, 2023) “Do you understand the difference between a Living Will and a Last Will in Idaho?”

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Where Should You Store Your Will?

Where Should You Store Your Will?

When you fail to plan for your demise, your heirs may end up fighting. With Aretha Franklin, three of her sons were battling in court over handwritten wills. The Queen of Soul, who died in 2018, had a few wills: one was dated and signed in 2010, which was found in a locked cabinet. Another, signed in 2014, was discovered in a spiral notebook under the cushions of a couch in her suburban Detroit home. This begs the question: Where should you store your will and other estate planning documents?

The Herald-Ledger’s recent article, “Aretha Franklin’s will was in her couch. Here’s where to keep yours,” says that a jury recently decided the couch-kept will is valid. However, Aretha didn’t clarify her final wishes. Her handwritten wills had notations that were hard to decipher, and she didn’t properly store the will she may have wanted to be executed upon her death.

The Herald-Ledger’s article gives some options for storing your will. First, don’t store your will in the couch.

You should keep your will where it is secure but easily located. Here are some options:

  • Safe-deposit box: The downside is that the box might be initially inaccessible when you die. If your will is in the box, that’s an issue. The executor may need a copy of the will to access the box. If so, and a court order is required, it could take some time before the executor can get the will from the safe deposit box. If you do this, include your executor or the person designated to handle your estate on the safe deposit box contract.
  • At home: Keep a copy of your will in a fireproof and waterproof safe, but make sure there’s a duplicate key, or you give the combination code to your executor or some other trusted person.
  • With an attorney: You could have a spare set of original documents and leave one with your attorney. But be sure your family knows the attorney’s name with the will.
  • Local court: Check with the local probate court about storing your will and tell someone that you’ve placed your will in the care of the court. For instance, in Maryland, you can keep your original last will and testament with an office called the Register of Wills. The will can then be released only to you or to a person you authorize in writing to retrieve it.
  • Electronic storage: You could store it online to keep your will safe. However, most states don’t yet recognize electronic wills. As a result, you’ll need to have the originally signed copy of your will even if you store a digital copy.

Speak with an estate planning attorney about where you should store your will. He or she may suggest an option you and your family had not considered. All options to store your will have pros and cons. Whatever you do, tell the person designated to handle your estate where to find your will. If you would like to learn more about storing and handling your estate planning documents, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: The Herald-Ledger (July 19, 2023) “Aretha Franklin’s will was in her couch. Here’s where to keep yours.”

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Checklist Helps Put Affairs in Order

Checklist Helps Put Affairs in Order

As the Baby Boomer generation ages, so too come the very real conversations around end-of-life planning. It can be a daunting and emotionally difficult subject. A checklist helps put your affairs in order and provides you and your loved ones with some peace of mind. National Institute on Aging’s recent article, “Getting Your Affairs in Order Checklist: Documents to Prepare for the Future,” has some steps to consider when getting your affairs in order.

  1. Plan for your estate and finances. Common documents include a will and a power of attorney. A will states how your property, money and other assets will be distributed and managed when you die. A power of attorney for finances names someone who will make financial decisions for you when you are unable.
  2. Plan for your future health care. Many people choose to prepare advance directives, which are legal documents that provide instructions for medical care and only go into effect if you can’t communicate your wishes due to disease or severe injury. A living will tells doctors how you want to be treated if you can’t make your own decisions about emergency treatment. A power of attorney for health care names your health care proxy. This individual can make health care decisions for you if you cannot communicate these yourself.
  3. Put your important papers and copies of legal documents in one place. You can set up a file, put everything in a desk or dresser drawer, or list the information and location of papers in a notebook. Consider getting a fireproof and waterproof safe to store your documents for added security.
  4. Tell someone you know and trust the location of your important papers. Someone you trust should know where to find your documents in case of an emergency.
  5. Talk to your family and physician about advance care planning. A doctor can help you understand future health decisions and plan the kinds of care or treatment you may want. Discussing this with your doctor is free through Medicare during your annual wellness visit, and private health insurance may also cover this. Share your decisions with your loved ones to help avoid any surprises about your wishes.
  6. Give permission in advance to discuss your condition with your caregiver. You can give your caregiver permission to talk with your doctor, lawyer, insurance provider, credit card company, or bank. This is different from naming a health care proxy. A health care proxy can only make decisions if you cannot communicate them.
  7. Review your plans regularly. Look over your plans at least once yearly and when any major life event occurs, like a divorce, move, or major change in your health.

A checklist helps put your affairs in order and gives you and your loved ones a roadmap to address any changes or issues that come up in the future. If you would like to learn more about end-of-life planning, please visit our previous posts.  

Reference: National Institute on Aging (July 25, 2023) “Getting Your Affairs in Order Checklist: Documents to Prepare for the Future”

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Essential Estate Planning Documents every Caregiver Needs

Essential Estate Planning Documents every Caregiver Needs

Being a caregiver for a loved one can be one of the most emotionally challenging things you can do. There are so many aspects of your loved ones life that you are suddenly responsible for managing. So many important discussions about estate planning and writing a will are emotionally challenging as they ask those involved to come face-to-face with their mortality. But these are important discussions, says a recent article, “Elder Law Guys: All the documents to have in place when you’re an adult caregiver,” from Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The sooner these conversations take place, the better. There are some essential estate planning documents every caregiver needs to have available.

Here are the documents needed:

General Durable Power of Attorney. The financial POA is the most essential estate planning document. An agent is named to stand in for the parent or other person and make all financial and legal decisions. Name not just one but two successor agents to serve if the primary agent cannot or will not serve when needed. If no POA or agent can serve, the family will need to petition the court to have a judge name a guardian to manage the person’s financial affairs. There’s no guarantee that the court will name a family member. POA law varies by state, so speak with an estate planning attorney to ensure the POA permits the specific actions you want the agent to be able to take.

Durable Healthcare Power of Attorney and a Living Will. In some estate planning practices, these two documents are combined, while in others, they are separate. For the Healthcare POA, an agent is named to make health care decisions for the person. It’s advised to name two successor agents in case the primary person cannot or does not wish to serve in this capacity.

A Living Will contains the person’s wishes regarding receiving life-sustaining treatment in the event they can’t make their own decisions and the treating physician has determined the patient is either suffering from an irreversible coma, is in a persistent vegetative state, or an end-stage medical condition not survivable even with treatment.

Last Will and Testament and Trusts. The last will and trusts both dictate how property will pass, but the will directs how property is passed upon death. A trust contains provisions to manage assets during a person’s lifetime. Assets owned by a trust don’t go through probate, so they transfer directly to beneficiaries, and their value and the identity of beneficiaries remain private.

Suppose there are family members who are disabled. In that case, the estate plan should include a Supplemental Needs Trust to hold any inheritance from a disabled beneficiary who receives needs-based government benefits. Otherwise, the disabled recipient will become ineligible for government benefits. Depending on the circumstances, parents may want assets to be held in trust for other beneficiaries until they can manage their inheritances wisely.

Asset Protection Trust. An irrevocable Asset Protection Trust holds assets to shelter them from the cost of long-term care and can reduce or eliminate estate taxes for beneficiaries. An estate planning attorney will know which type of Asset Protection Trust will be most effective for your situation.

Beneficiary Designation Forms. All accounts or assets with beneficiary designations should be reviewed to be sure the named beneficiary is correct.

These essential estate planning documents should be stored in a known location so the may be available for a caregiver to access, if they need. Documents must be reviewed every three to five years to ensure they align with the parent’s wishes. Estate and tax laws change, relationships change, and people move and pass on, so it’s important to keep these documents updated. If you would like to learn more about the role of a caregiver, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (July 8, 2023) “Elder Law Guys: All the documents to have in place when you’re an adult caregiver”

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Legal Documents Every Senior Needs

Legal Documents Every Senior Needs

There are legal documents every senior needs. Legal documents pertaining to health care, end-of-life treatments and allowing others to access medical records are vital to protecting adults at any age. However, they are especially important for seniors, says a recent article from The News-Enterprise, “All seniors need legal documents for medical issues.”

These documents include a living will, health care power of attorney and HIPAA authorization. In addition, they give you the ability to name the individuals you want access to secure medical information and who will be able to make decisions about your health care during incapacity.

The health care power of attorney is the broadest and most important medical estate planning document. Depending upon where you live, it may be known as medical power of attorney, healthcare proxy, or healthcare surrogate.

Here’s where an estate planning attorney is needed: like many estate planning documents, the health care power of attorney can be broad, encompassing both a living will, and a HIPAA authorization within one single document, or it can be extremely limited. By having a document created for you, rather than using a boilerplate form, you can ensure your exact wishes are followed.

The health care power of attorney generally makes specific determinations. The document needs to name one person or agent and a backup agent to act on your behalf. Many people think they can change their agent if the agent becomes incapacitated or unavailable. Still, all too often, they need to remember to have their document updated, and then, when they need to have an agent act on their behalf, no one can do so.

Without an appointed agent, court intervention becomes necessary, which is time-consuming and costly.

The health care power of attorney should specify when the agent may act on behalf of the person and address both access to information and decision-making. The ability to immediately make decisions is critical when the individual is at an advanced age or has urgent medical needs. In addition, other provisions are included to ensure the agent has the full ability to act.

A living will, sometimes called an advance medical directive, may be a separate document or contained within the health care power of attorney. It includes instructions for end-of-life decisions. These may be as detailed as outlining when artificial nutrition and hydration may be used or as simple as naming an agent with the right to remove the person from life support. If you have strong feelings about using life-prolonging devices, your wishes can be legally enforceable through a living will.

Lastly, a HIPAA authorization permits another person to have access to review medical records.

These are the basic legal documents that every senior needs built into their estate planning. These health care documents should be created with the help of an experienced estate planning attorney to ensure the person carrying out your wishes is the person whose judgment you trust and to clarify your wishes. Preparing for these tough decisions in advance is hard. However, this is a gift to those you love, who will otherwise be left hoping they did what you would have wanted. If you would like to learn more about health care planning, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: The News-Enterprise (May 27, 2023) “All seniors need legal documents for medical issues”

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Estate Plans Require Preparation for Success

Estate Plans Require Preparation for Success

Making wishes clear to family members is never enough to satisfy legal standards, according to a recent article, “Preparation is essential part of estate plan” from The News-Enterprise. Quite the opposite occurs when family members refuse to follow verbal requests, especially when personal grievances come to the surface during times of grief. Estate plans require preparation for success.

A second misconception concerns the spouse or children being able to step in and take action for a loved one whose health is declining solely based on the family relationship.

Many parents have children who would make poor agents, so many don’t name their children to act on their behalf. Even if you want your spouse or child to act on your behalf, you have to name them in the proper legal documents.

A third frequent misconception is that documents can be created when needed. Not so! Documents like Power of Attorney, Health Care Power of Attorney, Living Will and others must be created well in advance. An incapacitated person cannot sign legal documents, so if no planning has been done, the family will have to petition the court to name a guardian—an expensive, time-consuming and complicated process.

Every adult should have three basic documents while they are in good health: a Health Care Power of Attorney, a Durable Power of Attorney and a Last Will and Testament.

The Health Care Power of Attorney gives another person the right to make healthcare decisions for you if you are unable to do so. It also gives another person the right to access protected health care information, including medical and health insurance records. It may also be used to authorize organ and/or tissue donation and set limitations for donation. Finally, the document may direct end-of-life decisions regarding artificial life support.

The Durable Power of Attorney allows another person to handle legal and financial matters. It can be effective upon signing or upon incapacity. Without correctly executed Powers of Attorney, the family will need to apply for guardianship.

The Last Will and Testament determines who should receive any specific property and how your property is to be divided and distributed. Wills are only effective upon death, so any property in the will continues to be yours until death. Wills are also used to name the executor who will be responsible for administering the estate. It can also be used to set up additional protections for disabled beneficiaries, minor children and others who are not good with finances.

Speak with an experienced estate planning attorney to be certain to have these essential documents to prepare for the times when life doesn’t go as expected. Preparation is required for the success of your estate plan and those you love. If you would like to learn more about drafting an estate plan, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: The News-Enterprise (May 13, 2023) “Preparation is essential part of estate plan”

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Unmarried Couples must have Estate Planning Documents

Unmarried Couples must have Estate Planning Documents

Many couples make the choice not to wed, even after being together for decades, for personal or financial reasons. For example, some clients don’t marry so as not to impact their children’s inheritance, while others would rather not bother with the legalities, says a recent article, “Estate Planning for Unmarried Couples” from My Prime Time News. In some cases, marriage would cause the couple to lose pension or Social Security benefits, if they remarried. However, unmarried couples must take extra care to have estate planning documents in place to make their wishes clear and to protect each other in case of incapacity, serious illness and, ultimately, death.

From any statutory priority, a significant other does not have the legal rights granted to a spouse to serve as a personal representative or executor for their loved one’s estate. In addition, there is no statutory right to inherit property, including any family allowance or exempt property allowance.

The significant other also has no rights regarding acting as guardian or conservator for their partner and no ability to make medical decisions, if they become incapacitated or disabled.

All of these issues, however, can be resolved with the help of an estate planning attorney. Both partners should execute a will, health care power of attorney, general power of attorney and a living will to protect each other.

The last will and testament designates a personal representative or executor who will be in charge of the decedent’s estate and inherit the person’s assets. With no will, a partner will inherit no assets, unless they are owned jointly or the partner is a named beneficiary.

Having a health care power of attorney and a financial power of attorney gives a partner the power to make decisions if their loved one becomes incapacitated. In addition, these power of attorney documents are necessary for adult children to have priority in making these decisions, and guardianship proceedings will be required if there are no children or family members.

Disputes between the adult children of unmarried couples are common if a comprehensive estate plan still needs to be completed. For example, imagine a partner of many decades becoming too ill to communicate their end-of-life wishes. Even after a lifetime together, the adult children will have the legal upper hand, regardless of what the couple has discussed as their wishes for this situation.

It may be challenging for unmarried couples to discuss their living arrangements and family dynamics. However, the experienced estate planning attorney has met with and helped families of all kinds and will have the knowledge to prepare an estate plan to address all family dynamics.

Unmarried couples must have estate planning documents in place. Once this work is done, the couple can rest easy, knowing they have protected each other in the best and worst circumstances. If you would like to learn more about planning for unmarried couples, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: My Prime Time News (May 1, 2023) “Estate Planning for Unmarried Couples”

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Use Estate Planning to Prepare for Cognitive Decline

Use Estate Planning to Prepare for Cognitive Decline

Since 2000, the national median age in the U.S. has increased by 3.4 years, with the largest single year gain of 0.3 years in 2021, when the median age reached 38.8 years. This may seem young compared to the life expectancies of older Americans. However, the median age in 1960 was significantly lower, at 29.5 years, according to the article “Don’t Let Cognitive Decline Derail Well-Laid Financial Plans” from Think Advisor. As we get older, it is wise to use your estate planning to prepare for cognitive decline.

An aging population brings many challenges to estate planning attorneys, who are mindful of the challenges of aging, both mental, physical and financial. Experienced estate planning attorneys are in the best position to help clients prepare for these challenges by taking concrete steps to protect themselves.

Individuals with cognitive decline become more vulnerable to potentially negative influences at the same time their network of trusted friends and family members begins to shrink. As people become older, they are often more isolated, making them increasingly susceptible to scams. The current scam-rich environment is yet another reason to use estate planning.

When a person is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or any other form of dementia, an estate plan must be put into place as soon as possible, as long as the person is still able express their wishes. A diagnosis can lead to profound distress. However, there is no time to delay.

While typically, the person may state they wish their spouse to be entrusted with everything, this has to be properly documented and is only part of the solution. This is especially the case if the couple is close in age. A secondary and even tertiary agent needs to be made part of the plan for incapacity.

The documents needed to protect the individual and the family are a will, financial power of attorney, durable power of attorney and health care documentation. In addition, for families with more sophisticated finances and legacy goals, trusts and other estate and tax planning strategies are needed.

A common challenge occurs when parents cannot entrust their children to be named as their primary or secondary agents. For example, suppose no immediate family members can be trusted to manage their affairs. In that case, it may be necessary to appoint a family friend or the child of a family friend known to be responsible and trustworthy.

The creation of power of attorney documents by an estate planning attorney is critical. This is because if no one is named, the court will need to step in and name a professional guardian. This person won’t know the person or their family dynamics and may not put their ward’s best interests first, even though they are legally bound to do so. There have been many reports of financial and emotional abuse by court-appointed guardians, so this is something to avoid if possible. An experienced attorney will make sure you are using your estate planning to prepare for cognitive decline. If you would like to learn more about elder care planning, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Think Advisor (April 21, 2023) “Don’t Let Cognitive Decline Derail Well-Laid Financial Plans”

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Singles Need Estate Planning for Incapacity

Singles Need Estate Planning for Incapacity

Estate planning is even more critical for singles than married couples—and it has nothing to do with whom you’ll leave assets to when you die. A recent article from AARP, “6 Estate Planning Tips for Singles,” explains how estate planning addresses support during challenging life events. Singles need estate planning during their lifetime for issues such as incapacity.

Estate planning addresses medical and financial decisions for an incapacitated person. For singles, these may be more complex questions to answer.

Whether someone has never married or is divorced or widowed, these are challenging questions to answer. However, they must be documented. In addition, singles with minor children need to nominate a trusted person who can care for their children if they cannot. Estate planning addresses all of these issues.

To be sure you complete this process, start with a conversation with an experienced estate planning attorney. This will help with accountability, ensuring that you start and finish the process.

Here are some pointers for singles who keep putting this vital task off:

What would happen if you don’t leave clear instructions about who will make medical decisions in case of incapacity? A doctor who doesn’t know your wishes will decide for you. If you don’t want to be placed on a ventilator for artificial breathing or fed by a stomach tube while in a coma, the decision will be made regardless of your wishes.

Dying without a will is known as dying “intestate.” All of your assets will be distributed according to the intestate succession laws in your state. If no relatives come forward to claim your property, the state receives your assets. This is not what most people want.

Part of your estate plan includes naming a personal representative—an executor—who will oversee your affairs after your death. You’ll want to designate someone who is organized, has good judgment and can handle financial matters. You should also name a backup, so that if the first person cannot or does not wish to serve, there will be someone else to take control. Otherwise, the court will name someone who doesn’t even know you to take on this task. It’s better to designate someone than leave this to the state.

Your estate plan includes the following:

Last will and testament. This is where you nominate your executor, heirs and how your assets will be distributed. You can also appoint a guardian for minor children. Note that anyone named as a beneficiary on a retirement, insurance policy, or investment account supersedes any instructions in your will, so be sure to update those and check on them every few years to be sure they are still aligned with your wishes.

Living trust. This is a legal entity owning assets to be given to beneficiaries, managed by a trustee of your choosing, and avoids the delays and costs of probate.

Financial Power of Attorney (FPOA). This document authorizes someone you name to act as your agent and make financial decisions if you cannot. An FPOA can prevent delays in accessing bank and investment accounts and paying your bills. The FPOA ends upon your death.

Living will, durable medical power of attorney, or advance health care directive. These documents allow you to designate someone to communicate your health care wishes when you cannot. For example, you can include instructions on pain management, organ donation and your wishes for life support measures.

Health care power of attorney (HPOA). Like the living will, which is more associated with end-of-life care, the HPOA lets someone make medical treatment decisions on their behalf.

Singles need estate planning to protect themselves for incapacity.  Be sure to communicate your wishes with family and friends. Tell your executor where your documents may be found and provide them with the information they’ll need so they may act on your behalf. If you would like to learn more about planning for incapacity or disability, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: AARP (April 7, 2023) “6 Estate Planning Tips for Singles”

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Information in our blogs is very general in nature and should not be acted upon without first consulting with an attorney. Please feel free to contact Texas Trust Law to schedule a complimentary consultation.
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