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What documents are essential for your Estate Planning in DC? A checklist

In many websites you can find a very variable list of the documents that should be part of an adequate Estate Plan, these are the ones that I consider essential in most cases and that work if you live in Washington DC

1. Last will and testament

The functions of a Will are several:

  • A will gives you the power to decide what is in the best interest of your children (and other beneficiaries) as well as your pets (if you have them at the time of your death).
  • It also serves to help determine what will happen to assets of financial or sentimental value.
  • With a will, you can name an executor, who is a person who will follow the instructions you leave in it, and
  • You can add any additional funeral provisions.

It is important to remember that a Will does not serve to control the distribution of all assets and for that you will need additional documents where such guidelines are fully clarified.

2. Durable Power of Attorney

With this legal document, you can appoint another person to act on your behalf, usually known as an agent or attorney-in-fact.

To this person, you can give broad or limited powers of attorney (depending on how you are creating your estate plan). It is essential that you choose this trusted person very carefully, because with the power of attorney, this person is able to sell, invest and spend your wealth..

A durable power of attorney is maintained even in case of incapacity, unlike traditional powers of attorney that end upon death or incapacity. Note that a durable power of attorney ends only in the event of death.

3. Living Will

Your entire estate plan should have a number of protections for your estate and beneficiaries even if you are alive, which is why this legal document is used, stating your wishes for medical care in the event of an accident or illness that leaves you incapacitated.

You can think of this document as a guide for the person you designate as your attorney-in-fact, since it will have your wishes for medical care in a written and concrete form.

What decisions can you make in a living will? Some of them are:

  • Ways to control any pain you have
  • Authorization or denial of authorization for connection to a mechanical ventilator.
  • Palliative care at the end of your life.

I know it’s hard to think about all of this, but making these decisions in advance and putting them in a document helps the people around you to be prepared for a very stressful situation and will help take a greater emotional or moral burden off of them.

4. Revocable living trust

A revocable living trust is just another tool to pass on the assets (your estate) to the beneficiaries and thus avoid court probate proceedings that are often costly and time-consuming.

To do so, you must appoint a trustee -it could be a family member, a lawyer or even your spouse- to be in charge of administering your assets. Now, the difference with a will is that a trust can be used for assets to be distributed during your lifetime or after your death.

In case you have property or a large amount of wealth, setting up a trust can offer you a good tax savings.

Don’t forget that you can change the provisions of a revocable trust at any time during your lifetime, and if instead of naming a trustee, you assume that role, you can continue to manage your investments and financial affairs.

5. Beneficiary Designations

A designated beneficiary is the person who will inherit:

  • You will inherit a bank account balance.
  • The payout from a life insurance policy you have taken out
  • An annuity (according to the terms of the annuity).

By making a beneficiary designation, you are guaranteeing that any payments will be inherited in a timely manner by the people you choose.

Also, remember that it is also possible to name multiple beneficiaries and multiple secondary beneficiaries if you so choose and it is stipulated in the document.

6. Advance Healthcare Directive

In the event that you become incapacitated and unable to make your own medical decisions, the Advance Healthcare Directive document will serve to ensure that your healthcare wishes are carried out.

This is one of the most important documents when it comes to estate planning, and with it, you can:

  • Appoint a health care agent, (using the Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care). The person you designate can make medical decisions on your behalf if you are unable to. You may choose anyone you wish for this role.
  • Provide detailed instructions for medical care. You will be able to detail the extent to which you want future medical care, including the manner of life-sustaining treatments in the event you do not regain consciousness or become terminally ill.

Don’t leave out this document as it will help prevent future disputes among your family members about whether certain medical or palliative care procedures should be carried out.

7. Letter of intent

In case there are other instructions, personal requests or you want to share personal or financial information that are not in your will, you can write a letter of intent.

Use this (non-legal) document to pass on your wishes about other things, an example of which might be about ideas for your funeral (location, type of casket, flowers, people to invite, etc.).

Since it does not have the legal weight of a will, you do not need a lawyer to draft it or certify its validity.

8. Provision of Digital Assets

It’s 2022 and you can’t leave your digital assets in limbo when it comes to Estate Planning, so don’t wait any longer and include information such as the following:

  • Management information for website domains
  • Digitally stored videos and photos (on physical media or in the cloud)
  • Access to social network accounts (username, password and two-step validation systems)
  • Data for email access

If your estate plan does not yet include a provision for digital assets, your loved ones may have trouble accessing your social media accounts, emails, cloud photos and other content you may have left on the Internet, do it now and save them the trouble.

Estate Planning Attorney in Washington, D.C.

At Lopez Law Firm LLC we will advise you on what are the proper documents that your Estate Planning should have in compliance with state laws. Schedule your consultation today!

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