Wills: Despite the growing popularity of trusts and more “modern” devices, wills remain the basic documents for end-of-life planning.
Even if a family uses more complicated mechanisms such as revocable trusts to manage and bequeath property, family members should still have wills, for a number of reasons, said Frederick Tansill, an estate planning attorney in McLean, Va. For example, a “pour-over” provision in a will can take care of property that through oversight or other reasons didn’t get placed in a trust.
Another key reason is to provide for the care of minor children.
Wills also can be used to handle seemingly small, but often emotionally freighted, chores. A will can make minor cash bequests – for example, to a longtime domestic employee. It can also specify the disposition of personal property, making decisions that otherwise risk creating friction among children over beloved items. Simple wills are indeed the stuff of self-help. Books, computer software programs and Web sites offer standard will forms. For anything the least bit tricky, working with a lawyer experienced in wills and estates is advisable.
Advance medical directives: One should plan not only for death but also for incapacity. This means preparing and signing documents that designate someone to make medical decisions for you when you can’t and to decide how hard medical personnel should struggle to keep you alive should you suffer a terminal illness or be rendered comatose.
Two documents generally cover these questions – a health care power of attorney and a living will – though a growing number of states have combined them into one, typically called an advance medical directive. Most states have approved forms for these powers, and generally they are straightforward. But some states include a menu of options, leaving it to the signer to cross them off or leave them in, which Tansill said can be confusing.
The necessary forms and instructions are readily available on the Internet from state offices and bar and medical associations. If you find the options confusing, your doctor may be able to explain some of them.