Estate Planning

Wills

A will is the first step in estate planning and should be at the top of your "to do" list. The provisions of your will determine who will inherit your property, who will become the guardian of your children, and who will wrap up your financial affairs in the event of your death.

Trusts

A trust allows you to have more control over the money you leave to someone than does your will. For example, if you leave money to a young child, it can be put into a trust and used only for education. Or the money could be disbursed to the child when he or she reaches a particular age. A trust also protects the money from creditors since it cannot be taken from the beneficiary to pay debts.

Powers of Attorney

If you are unable to make legal decisions because you are somehow incapacitated, someone will need to make these decisions for you. You need to decide who this person will be in advance. This is called giving someone power of attorney. There are two main types of powers of attorney. A durable power of attorney gives a person, or people, authority to manage your finances and other legal affairs for you if you are not capable of managing them yourself. A health care directive is a power of attorney that allows the person you designate to make health care decisions for you if you are unable to make those decisions yourself.

Living Will

A living will is a clear statement about your wishes regarding artificial life support. If your brain is dead and your body remains functioning only with the help of life support, a living will directs attendants in what choice to make for you.

Testamentary Letters

A testamentary letter is similar to a will except that it deals with items of smaller value. Through this handwritten letter you can designate who inherits such items as dishes, art, photos and other heirlooms. This letter is a handwritten document, and it should be referenced in the will. Many states recognize a testamentary letter as legally binding, but it is probably a good idea to have your letter signed by a witness.