Estate Planning Without a Lawyer

Everyone needs an estate plan, regardless of age, income, or marital status. It's more than just a Last Will and Testament. The primary purpose of an estate plan is to provide comprehensive instructions and prepare loved ones in case of traumatic events or death. A complete plan includes the following legal documents:

Without an estate plan to designate beneficiaries, your assets could end up in a lengthy and complicated probate process. Regardless of your estate's size, you need to give your loved ones instructions for your final wishes. 

Beginning the Process

Preparing your estate plan is easy — you don't even need an attorney to prepare the documents. You can handle the process yourself with our online document preparation service. This option is faster and much less expensive than going to an attorney. You can work at your own pace and put together a legally-binding estate plan from the comfort of your home. 

Some documents in your estate plan are intended for circumstances that do not immediately lead to or include death, such as if you are involved in an accident and left unable to communicate your preferences regarding medical decisions. 

To prepare for any scenario, it's a good idea to include the following documents in your estate plan:

Living Will

A Living Will is a legal document that communicates your preferences regarding medical treatment in the event that you are unable to speak for yourself. 

Durable Power of Attorney

A Durable Power of Attorney (POA) is a legal document that appoints another person to speak for you if you are unable to make decisions for yourself. A person with Durable Power of Attorney has the right to make important financial, business-related, or even health-related decisions for you.

The scope of power for this document can be tailored to your preferences, so the POA can only act on your behalf in a specific area. You may also appoint more than one Power of Attorney.

Advance Healthcare Directive

An Advance Healthcare Directive is a legally-binding document that combines a Living Will and Power of Attorney. You can communicate specific preferences regarding health-related decisions and appoint a party to act on your behalf regarding medical problems.

Last Will and Testament

A Last Will and Testament is a legally-binding document that lays out your final wishes and instructions. It also names your beneficiaries and how you wish to distribute your estate after you pass. 

A Last Will and Testament involves the testator (the person writing the will), the estate, the executor, the beneficiaries, and the legal guardian (if applicable). Your estate comprises all assets, property, and other items that you legally own. As the testator, you can distribute your estate however you wish. 

The executor handles your estate and works with the probate court to ensure everything is dealt with properly. This person is also in charge of clearing up any debts against the estate and dispersing the estate to the beneficiaries.

Your beneficiaries can be individual people or organizations. There is no age limit for naming beneficiaries, but if your intended recipient is still a minor, you may need to appoint a trustee to their portion of your estate until they are a legal adult. 

Living Trust

A Living Trust also deals with distributing your estate to chosen beneficiaries. Any part of your estate that you add to the trust gets increased protection from lawsuits and taxes. Used together, a Last Will and Testament and a Living Trust ensure your estate is completely covered. 

There are two types of living trusts — Revocable Living Trusts and Irrevocable Living Trusts. Both trusts are set up while the trustee is still living and allow assets to avoid the probate process.

A Revocable Trust does not actually go into effect until after the trustee dies. It can be adjusted or revoked by the trustee before their death. An Irrevocable Trust cannot be changed, even by the trustee, and becomes effective as soon as it is created.

Probate Basics

Probate is the legal process in which the court verifies a deceased person's Last Will and Testament. The estate of the deceased party is held in probate while the court system attests to the will and estate. The court must verify this information before the executor can distribute any part of the estate to the beneficiaries.

This process can take up to several months. It depends on the size of the estate and if there are any legal complications. If there is no will or trust, then the probate court decides how to distribute the estate. 

Avoiding Probate

It may be possible to completely avoid the hassle of probate using these documents.

  1. Living Trust: assets in the trust transfer directly to the intended beneficiaries

  2. Joint Property Ownership: any property jointly owned by two parties is immediately transferred to the surviving owner

  3. Survivorship Deed: this legally-binding document transfers ownership of property to a new owner upon death

You may decide to add beneficiaries directly to your financial accounts so assets transfer directly to the recipient without going through probate.

Plan Ahead

There is much more to an estate plan than just making your final wishes known. Your loved ones need to know what to do in different situations, and you want to know that all of your preferences and instructions will be carried out. Plan carefully to ensure your estate will be dealt with properly.

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