Estate planning is very important, no matter how large or small your estate may be. It gives you peace of mind, while you are still living, to know that your property will go to the people you want, in the way you want, and when you want. It permits you to save as much as possible on taxes, court costs and attorneys' fees; and it affords the comfort that your loved ones can mourn your loss without being burdened with unnecessary red tape and financial confusion.

Some of the documents you should consider are the following:

1. Will.
In a will you can dictate whom you want to inherit your property. You can also name a guardian to care for your young children should something happen to you and the other parent.

2. Consider a Trust.
Having your property in a living trust, your survivors won't have to go through probate court, a time-consuming and expensive process.

3. Health care directives.
Writing out your wishes for health care can protect you if you become unable to make medical decisions for yourself. Health care directives include a health care declaration ("living will") and a power of attorney for health care, which gives someone you choose the power to make decisions if you you are unable to do so.

4. Durable power of attorney.
You can give a trusted person authority to handle your finances and property if you become incapacitated and unable to handle your own affairs.

5. Name an adult to protect your children's property.
You should name an adult to manage any money and property your minor children may inherit from you. This can be the same person as the personal guardian you name in your will.

6. Name a beneficiary for bank accounts.

This makes the account automatically "payable on death" to your beneficiary, allowing the funds to skip the probate process. Likewise, in almost all states, you can register your stocks, bonds, or brokerage accounts to transfer to your beneficiary upon your death.

7. Plan for funeral expenses.

Other than a funeral prepayment plan, you can set up a payable-on-death account at your bank and deposit funds into it to pay for your funeral and related expenses.


8. Make final arrangements.
Make your wishes known regarding organ and body donation and disposition of your body -- burial or cremation.


9. Protect your business.
If you're the sole owner of a business, you should have a succession plan. If you own a business with others, you should have a buyout agreement.

10. Store your documents safely.
Your attorney-in-fact and/or your executor (the person you choose in your will to administer your property after you die) may need access to all your documents. Put them in a safe place that is known to your executor.


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Estate Planning