In this last of three posts about essential estate planning documents, we will look at critical documents related to health care and other legal documents that should be readily available to your loved ones when they need them. These, combined with those identified in the first two posts in this series, should provide a good starting point for assembling your estate plan.
Health Care Essentials
While a living will can be considered part of your health care package for estate planning purposes, other documents can be more important in handling health care issues while you are alive but unable to make decisions for yourself. In Arkansas, a durable power of attorney for health care gives another person the ability to make these decisions for you. Without this document, the court may have to appoint a guardian to make these decisions for you. This can be time-consuming, costly and the person designated by the court may not be the person you would have wanted to handle these decisions for you.
Any health care documents should be in compliance with HIPAA which regulates the privacy of health care information. Information about your medical condition or care can only be provided to those you have designated for this purpose.
Heirs and Beneficiaries
As mentioned in the first post, making sure that your survivors have access to your insurance and retirement documents is crucial to their ability to collect the proceeds. The name of the insurance company, the policy number and the contact information for the agent should also be readily available.
The same information should be available regarding any pensions, annuities, IRAs and 401ks. Some of these are employment-related and could have been unclaimed for years. The Department of Labor reports about $850 million in assets that have not been rolled over into other accounts or otherwise not claimed. IRAs are considered to be unclaimed if no withdrawal is made before age 70½.
Marriage and Divorce
The final category of documents include those related to changes in your family situation. For example, a spouse may need to supply an original marriage certificate to claim benefits. If you have been divorced, many of the issues and debts settled in the divorce may have to be proven to creditors. Keeping copies of these papers as part of your estate plan can also save a lot of time and energy when trying to settle an estate.
As this series of posts has shown, the estate planning process can be complex. Each person’s circumstances will require an assessment of the assets and property involved. Only an experienced estate planning attorney can look at the big picture and give you the advice necessary to pull all of these pieces together for the best result for you and your family.