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Important reminders when dealing with estates and the future

For people in New Jersey who are being conscientious about the future and are concentrating on estate planning, there are certain basics that they will understand including writing wills. This is something that addresses issues after death, but does little if there are needs while the testator is still alive, becomes incapacitated and cannot make his or her own decisions. There are other documents that should be completed to ensure that the necessary preparations are made for any eventuality.

A medical power of attorney - also known as an advanced health care directive - will allow the testator to select a person who will make the decisions about health care should they be unable to do it themselves. This is a health care agent. A living will details the medical care the person wants and does not want if there is little-to-no chance at recovering. The health care agent will ensure that the person's wishes are carried out. If there is no living will, the decisions will likely be left to family members.

A durable power of attorney makes sure that the finances will be managed if the testator becomes incapacitated. It is a reality that bills will have to be paid and other clerical matters will continue despite the person's condition. This accounts for it. The designated person can write checks and use various accounts on the testator's behalf. A durable power of attorney differs from a power of attorney in that the power of attorney is invalidated when the person becomes incapacitated.

A revocable living trust is often used for larger estates. With it, the assets are placed into the trust and the testator will be the trustee. That which is in the trust can be managed by the person. If he or she becomes incapacitated, the designated successor will take over and manage it. Finally, a release that will allow doctors to discuss the medical condition with others - a HIPAA release - allows personal medical issues to be talked about legally.

It is important to remember that having a comprehensive estate plan goes beyond wills and trusts. Addressing estates can be complicated and confusing. It is wise to be organized. Contacting a legal professional experienced in estate planning is key.

Source:, "The Biggest Estate Planning Mistake People Make," Brad Wiewel, Aug. 16, 2017

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