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Estate Plan Basics

Bieber & Czechowski — A Law Firm Providing Comprehensive Estate Planning Guidance

It's never too early to start preparing for the future of yourself and your loved ones. When establishing your estate plan, you should consider the following factors:

Will

A will governs the division and distribution of your assets upon your death. This document also names the person(s) who will manage your estate upon your death. It is important to note that a will governs the disposition of assets held in your individual name only. It does not govern assets held as "joint tenants" or those that designate a beneficiary. However, a will can ensure that your individually owned assets transfer upon your death as you intended.

Living Trust

Often a will is used in conjunction with a living trust, which is a trust created during your lifetime for your own benefit. Upon your death, the trust will distribute your assets in the same way a will would on its own, but without the high degree of court involvement. You may want to consider establishing a living trust if you are concerned about avoiding probate, creating long-term trusts for your heirs, protecting assets if you become incapacitated or eventually needing help managing your financial affairs.

Beneficiary Designation

Assets that designate a beneficiary, such as life insurance policies or retirement assets, will pass automatically upon your death to the designated beneficiary, regardless of your will or living trust. As a result, take time to review these designations to make sure they are consistent with your overall estate plan and personal goals.

Durable Power Of Attorney

With a durable power of attorney, you can designate an individual(s) to make financial decisions on your behalf with respect to your individually owned assets. The power of attorney may be broad, or you may limit the powers which you grant to such individual(s). This document also provides incapacity protection, as it remains valid if you become disabled. Please note, however, that assets transferred to your living trust are not governed by the power of attorney; instead, your trustees will have decision-making authority with respect to those assets. The power of attorney terminates upon your death.

Health Care Directive/Living Will/Power Of Attorney For Health Care

With these documents, you name your health care agents to act on your behalf with regard to medical treatment decisions if you are unable to act for yourself. These documents also express your specific wishes with respect to the administration of life-prolonging procedures when you are unable to communicate them.

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