Most people have heard of a Last Will and Testament and understand that they should have one if they want a say in how their assets are distributed after their death. However, fewer people understand the importance of having a comprehensive estate plan. We explain the difference between a simple will and a complete estate plan and illustrate what can happen if you don’t have some key documents in place at the time of your death.
What Is an Estate Plan?
The term “estate plan” is how we generally refer to the various documents and tools available to you for protecting your healthcare needs, assets, and family throughout your life and after your death. Each person’s estate plan will consist of different elements, depending on the size of his estate, the make-up of his family, and his wishes for the future.
A comprehensive estate plan in Louisiana will likely include the following:
- Last Will and Testament. This document is the basis for most estate plans. It includes detailed instructions for how any assets that are not otherwise designated should be distributed to heirs upon your death. Property and assets listed in the testament must go through the succession process before they can be transferred to heirs.
- Revocable living trust. If you have significant assets and want heirs to have access to them immediately upon your death without going through probate, you will want to consider establishing a living trust. This document will provide instructions for how the assets should be handled if you become incapacitated, as well as upon your death.
- Powers of attorney. These important documents will name representatives to make financial and healthcare decisions for you if you become disabled in an accident or develop dementia and are unable to speak on your own behalf.
- Advance medical directive. Also referred to as a living will, this document tells family members and healthcare providers how you want your care managed in emergency situations and at the end of your life. It can protect your loved ones from having to make heart-wrenching decisions.
- Special needs trust. If you have a child who will never be able to live independently, this kind of trust can make sure he or she is provided for long after your death. This is a crucial document if you have a family member with special needs.
- Guardianship designations. Your will can contain provisions for naming guardians for minor children or dependent adults. These decisions should be reviewed and revised as needed over the years.
As you can see, an estate plan does more than just distribute assets upon your death. These documents are important to have throughout your life and will give you peace of mind when you travel, retire, face a serious medical diagnosis, lose a spouse, and confront other challenging life events.
What Happens If You Don’t Have These Documents?
When you don’t have a comprehensive estate plan, you could be placing a serious burden on your loved ones if something unexpected happens to you. Without these documents, the following will likely happen:
- State law will determine who inherits from your estate.
- Your closest blood relative will be named the guardian of your children.
- Your property and assets will be tied up in court.
- Your healthcare and end-of-life decisions will be made by a judge.
- Your mortgage and other bills will not be paid while you are incapacitated.
- Your autistic child will not have access to funds for enriching activities.
- Your bereaved spouse will have to decide whether to continue your life support without your input.
Life is unpredictable. The sooner you work with an estate planning attorney to make these important decisions and put them in writing, the sooner you can achieve the peace of mind you need to enjoy your life.
Our Estate Planning Attorney Will Find the Right Plan for You
Our experienced estate planning attorneys will take the time to get to know you and to understand your wishes for the future so we can develop the best estate plan to accomplish your goals. Contact us in our New Orleans office today to schedule a meeting with our team.