Important Estate Planning Documents and Why You Need Them

Estate planning"Do I need a will or trust? How do I get one?"

Yes, you should have an up-to-date will or trust, as well as a durable power of attorney for your finances and advance medical directives (that include a Healthcare Power of Attorney, a living will and a HIPAA Authorization).

Property transfer clarity. We hear about the disastrous fallouts when celebrities die without a trust or other crucial documents in place. Elvis Presley is a famous example, but there are countless others, including James Gandolfini, Whitney Houston and Phillip Seymour Hoffman in the past few years. Who needs that kind of drama?

If you have a valid trust, the transfer of assets is much less confusing and difficult. A trust provides instructions as to when, how and to whom your assets should be distributed. A trust can also provide important asset protection for those who inherit your wealth.

When property is owned jointly with two names on the title, it passes automatically to the surviving owner. Other financial assets, like life insurance proceeds and funds from retirement plans, are likewise automatically transferred to the named beneficiaries. Make certain these are up-to-date. If neither of these applies and there is no estate plan to present to the judge, he or she will finalize the transfer of property in probate according to state law.

In case of incapacity. Remember Terri Schiavo, the young Florida woman? Months after she'd suffered severe brain damage, she remained in a persistent vegetative state. Her husband wanted to remove the feeding tube keeping her alive, claiming she wouldn't have wanted to be on artificial life support but her parents were against this. Terri didn't have any estate-planning documents to indicate her wishes, and as a result, this saga lasted almost a decade with the courts, Congress and even President George W. Bush becoming involved.

In the event you become incapacitated, there are three legal documents that can help express your wishes. One is the HIPAA Authorization which provides your medical team with a list of loved ones you wish to be kept informed of your medical condition. Another is your Living Will which provides details on how you want to be treated at the end of life if you suffer from a terminal illness or are in a permanent vegetative state. In Virginia, your loved ones do not have to decide when to 'pull the plug' rather you express your treatment wishes in this document. The third document is a durable power of attorney for healthcare. In this document, you name the person who'll make those healthcare decisions on your behalf when you cannot.

Where to get estate documents. You can get estate-planning documents from an estate planning attorney, lawyers who focus their practices on estate planning. These attorneys can help you transfer property to your heirs in the most tax-efficient way possible and make sure your plans adhere to the state estate laws where you live.

Although you can search the Internet for services that provide templates for wills, powers of attorney, and advance medical directives, you are infinitely safer to have an experienced estate and trust attorney who understands your family's specific circumstances prepare these documents. There are more disastrous cases that result from do-it-yourself legal documentation than from those that are handled by an experienced estate planning attorney.

If you need an estate plan or help clearing up any questions about what will happen to your property when you're no longer around, talk to an estate planning attorney. Do this to lessen the stress on your family when you pass away.

Reference: NASDAQ (December 16, 2015) "Why You Need Key Estate-Planning Documents"


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We've been putting together as many resources as possible so that we can continue to help:

  • If you’re a current client with a signing appointment or a prospective client with a consultation and would prefer that meeting take place in your own home, we can accomplish that with a little bit of pre-planning on our part and with the addition of a laptop, smartphone, tablet or other computer in your home to facilitate this virtual meeting. For those of you that need to sign legal documents, that too can be accomplished with the use of a webcam (FaceTime etc.), so that we can witness and electronically notarize all of your important legal documents.
  • We launched the rollout of our on-demand webinar early so that new clients and our allied professionals can view the important component parts of ‘an estate plan that works’ at their convenience.  That is available on our website.
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  • The best way to communicate with us is still by phone during regular office hours of 8:30 to 5:00, Monday through Friday, or, you can email any of our team members (that is, their first name followed by @zarembalaw.com).  We will respond to these emails as quickly as possible.
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Thank you, Walt and the Zaremba Team

Update to our Process

The unprecedented coronavirus pandemic has taken our entire country by surprise. We understand how difficult this time is for America’s businesses and families.  However, we believe it is vitally important that we make every effort possible to continue to offer solutions that avoid disrupting our important partnership with you, your family and friends.  As you know, estate planning is not something that should wait for a more convenient time, therefore the opportunity to address your important goals both during and after this crisis should not wait.  To that end, we have added the option of a ‘virtual consultation’ to our office process.  You will now have a choice of either meeting with us in our office or in the comfort of your own home.