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Get to Know Me Monday # 6 - Today I'm talking about Estate Planning

Today I am talking about estate planning documents. When discussing estate planning, there are many areas to consider. The primary objective should be for the distribution of assets remaining at your death, and guardianship or provisions for minors or special need dependents. In addition, ways to transfer assets without going through probate, protection of assets from creditors and long-term care considerations should also be part of the discussion.  If your estate may exceed federal and state estate tax exemptions, ways to transfer assets and minimize or eliminate estate taxes also need discussed.

There is not a one size fits all answer for estate planning, but there are some must have basic estate planning documents that estates of any size need.

  • Will  A will is a legal document that enables a person to make decisions about how their estate will be managed and distributed after his or her death. The main reason to have a will is that without one, a person dies “intestate.” This means the State will decide who inherits and manages their assets, not the decedent. Whether a person can be an heir depends on his or her relationship to the deceased, and not everyone wishes for a surviving spouse, children, and other relatives to inherit the portion of their estate dictated by the intestate law.  If you are charitably inclined, any charitable considerations will not be known or distributed by the State.

A will can specify your choice of executor(s) of your estate, (the person who is responsible for carrying out your wishes and making sure your legal affairs are managed properly).  The  will should also contain the preferred beneficiaries of your estate and how they are to receive assets.

  • Financial Power of Attorney A Financial POA, also known as a general durable power of attorney, is a document that allows you to designate someone to manage your financial affairs during your lifetime.   We never know when something unexpected could happen to us, like a sudden injury or illness. With a financial power of attorney, you create peace of mind for yourself and your loved ones by entrusting someone to manage your finances and property in the event you’re unable to care for these things yourself.

  • Health Care Power of Attorney   A Health Care Power of Attorney allows you to name someone to make medical decisions for you if you are unable to do so.  A health care power of attorney (or durable power of attorney for health care) is a legal document that authorizes another person (your agent) to obtain your health information and to make health care decisions for you. You can allow your agent to get your health information and communicate with your health care provider at any time, but health care decisions can be made for you only when you cannot make health care decisions for yourself.


  • Living Will A Living Will allows you to state what type of medical care you want to receive if you are permanently unconscious or terminally ill and unable to communicate.  You can also indicate your wishes regarding organ and tissue donation in a living will.  A living will is a legal document you can use to set forth your directions about the use or non-use of artificial life-sustaining support if you become terminally ill or permanently unconscious. A living will: 

  1. Becomes effective only when you cannot communicate your wishes and are permanently unconscious or terminally ill; 

  2. Can be changed or revoked by you at any time, but cannot be changed or revoked by anyone else; and

  3. Trumps the health care power of attorney.

The Ohio State Bar Association has developed standard forms with the Midwest Care Alliance, the Ohio State Medical Association, the Ohio Hospital Association, and the Ohio Osteopathic Association to make it easier for those who choose to have these documents. You may obtain a copy of these forms https://www.leadingageohio.org/aws/LAO/pt/sp/advance_directives.

You may also be able to obtain a copy of these forms from a variety of other organizations or from your physician or attorney.

For more information on Living Wills and Health Care Powers of Attorney, visit the Ohio Bar Association. https://www.ohiobar.org/public-resources/commonly-asked-law-questions-results/law-facts/law-facts-living-wills--health-care-powers-of-attorney/

What is probate and how can you avoid it?

Probate is the often expensive, time-consuming court administrative process that an executor (if there is a will) or administrator (if there is no will) must follow after someone dies. Assets that are in the name of one person alone become part of the probate process, even if you have a will. This process can be more complex if you own property in another state(s), as this may require the need to probate in multiple states. Probate can often be avoided by making sure assets are titled with survivorship, payable on death, transfer on death or with insurance or retirement accounts, designating beneficiaries.

  • Assets that do not go through probate are jointly owned bank accounts, jointly owned real estate, and assets like an IRA or 401(k) account in which beneficiaries are designated directly on them.  Titling of assets and beneficiary designations will take precedence over the contents of your will, so be sure these are all reviewed to make sure assets will be transferred according to your overall plan.

  • Adding joint owners to assets can have legal,  tax and gift implications, so be sure to discuss with an attorney, CPA, or CFP to understand the financial, legal and tax impact of these decisions.

Next week I will discuss some other estate planning considerations and documents that are helpful to have.

If you have a topic you’d like me to discuss, please let me know.

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