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Do all estate plans include the same legal documents?

Every person has their own set of life and family circumstances that are unique to them. Their estate plan should reflect these particularities. However, many people in Polk County who have estate plans probably use at least some common legal devices to effectuate and dictate their desires. This begs the question of whether all estate plans should include certain legal documents.

Regardless of a person's specific state of affairs, they should consider incorporating some common legal documents into their estate plan. The first is a durable power of attorney. This document helps to ensure that a person's financial matters will not fall by the wayside if they become physically or mentally unable to handle these issues. The durable power of attorney empowers someone else to pay the person's bills, handle their taxes, and take care of other financial decisions for the person if they can no longer do so on their own.

An advanced medical directive is another legal document that plans for contingencies in case a person becomes incapacitated. This document specifies the medical treatment that the person wants in case they cannot communicate those decisions later in life. The advanced medical directive also appoints another person to make healthcare decisions on behalf of the incapacitated person.

In addition to those documents, a will is central to any estate plan. Wills are the planning documents that provide for the distribution of a person's assets after their death. If a person does not have a will, Florida state law will dictate how their assets are distributed, which may not be in accordance with a person's wishes.

Finally, a person might want to think about whether a living trust makes sense for their estate plan. One of the main advantages of this legal instrument is that it allows the person to distribute their assets after death without putting their estate through probate. Because probate is a public process, and can be expensive and time consuming, many people do not want to burden their family members or other heirs with this legal procedure.

While no two estate plans are likely to be identical, many will have common threads. People in Polk County who are contemplating how to set up their estate plan may want to consider using some of the more common estate planning documents. As always, however, they should consult with an experienced attorney who can help them put together an estate plan that meets all of their personal and legal needs.

Source: Forbes, "5 Documents You Need To Avoid Costly Estate Planning Errors," Peter Lazaroff, Oct. 16, 2016

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