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  • Betsey Rubel

Estate Planning 101: 4 Documents you need to have

or many clients, estate planning has been on their “to do” list for many years. One of the best parts of my job as an estate planning attorney is that I have the opportunity to take a process some people dread (hence the to-do list for many years), and make it one that is smooth, understandable and efficient. Part of my role in the estate planning process is being an educator. It is important that clients understand what they are signing and why it is necessary. While estate planning can take on many different flavors, the most common estate planning documents are a will, a trust, a power of attorney and a patient advocate designation. Here is a brief description of each document: Will: A will, also referred to as a "Last Will and Testament" is the document that directs how your assets are distributed upon your death. A will can "pour over" into a trust or name outright beneficiaries of your estate. A guardian for minor children is also nominated in a will. If you have children, a will is absolutely essential. Trust: While there are many different types of trusts, the most common type of trust is a revocable living trust. Assets that are transferred to a revocable living trust during your lifetime are distributed according to the provisions of the trust upon your death. One of the biggest benefits of a trust is that you design how your assets are managed and distributed upon your death. A revocable living trust is also, well... revocable. So you can revoke or amend a trust any time prior to your death. Many clients chose to spread out distributions to younger beneficiaries over a period of years while still providing funds for college education and other financial needs. Another important benefit of a trust is that assets owned by your trust at the time of your death avoid probate. Power of Attorney: If you are disabled, a Power of Attorney allows another individual that you select to carry out your financial affairs. So long as the document is signed prior to disability, it allows a trusted advisor to pay your bills, file your tax returns, apply for benefits or other important tasks, in the event of your disability. A Power of Attorney is frequently used to avoid Guardianship or Conservatorship proceedings with the probate court. Patient Advocate Designation: A Patient Advocate is an individual who makes medical decisions for you in the event of your disability. You can nominate a trusted family member or friend to serve as your advocate in the event of your disability. You can also specify your wishes in this document as they relate to your medical care. In addition, the Patient Advocate Designation document allows your designated advocate to talk to doctors and access your medical records, which is prohibited under HIPAA law without a valid Patient Advocate Designation. ​Questions regarding any of these documents or ready to start the process? I would be happy to help. Visit my website at or email me at

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