Basic Estate Planning*
A Basic Estate Plan Will Do 5 Things for You
By Kent Phelps, Esq.
Designate legal guardians for minor children and any incapacitated adults you have guardianship over
Medical Power of Attorney
Name the person(s) to make medical decisions for you in the event you are incapacitated
Durable General Power of Attorney
Name the person(s) to make financial decisions for you in the event you are incapacitated of absent
Identify the personal representative (aka "executor") of your estate - the person to carry out your wishes expressed in your will
Identify your heirs and how your property is to be divided
Basic estate planning documents:
Last Will and Testament
Your will is the central document of a basic estate plan. It must be witnessed by two people who are not related to you.
Your will identifies 3 important categories of people:
Heirs of your estate
Guardian(s) of your children or incapacitated adult for whom you have guardianship
Personal Representative (aka "Executor") of your estate
If you don't have a trust, your will must be submitted to the probate court as part of a probate action typically filed by your personal representative. It tells the probate court how to divide up your property.
By having a will, you avoid dying "intestate", meaning that you died without a will and your property must be divided according to Arizona statute. The downside is that your heirs must go to court to probate your will which can be avoided with a revocable living trust.
Durable General Power of Attorney
You want to choose somebody you trust to manage your finances if you become incapacitated and are unable to make financial decisions. You do this by executing a Durable General Power of Attorney.
When you sign a Durable General Power of Attorney, you give authority for your "agent" or "attorney in fact" to act in your place in all things financial.
Under a Durable General Power of Attorney your agent (can be spouse, children, professional advisors, trusted friends...) can access your bank and investment accounts, pay your bills, invest your money and buy and sell property.
We recommend a Durable General Power of Attorney because it is effective immediately (handy in case you are out of the country) and continues to be effective after you are incapacitated.
Obviously, the person(s) you choose to be your agent needs to be somebody you trust and will not abuse their authority.
Durable Healthcare Power of Attorney
You want to utilize a Durable Healthcare Power of Attorney to name the person(s) you want to make medical decisions for you if you cannot make them for yourself.
Your "agent" or "surrogate" can communicate with your medical providers on your behalf and make informed decisions about the care you receive.
A spouse, child or trusted friend or extended family member is usually chosen to be your agent for medical decisionmaking.
You may also include your preferences for things like autopsy and organ donation as part of your Durable Healthcare Power of Attorney.
Is estate planning just for the retired or wealthy?
"Do I Need an Estate Plan?"
The answer may surprise you...
A Living Will does not at all resemble a Last Will and Testament. It is a medical directive to your medical providers informing them about your decisions regarding end-of-life healthcare.
Irreverently but aptly nick-named the "pull the plug" document, a living will expresses under what circumstances you do not wish your life to be artificially prolonged with extraordinary life-saving measures.
For example, you can opt for "comfort only" care if you have a terminal condition. You can also list limitations on specific interventions such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation and artificially administered food and fluids.