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Other estate planning elements

Estate Planning 101: Page 4

By , Caring.com Senior Editor
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There are several other types of estate planning documents people should consider, depending on their circumstances.

Joint ownership. When property, such as a house or bank account, is held in joint tenancy (also called tenancy by the entirety), it will pass automatically to the named survivor. Like living trusts, property in joint tenancy doesn't go through probate. This is a good setup if the survivor is a spouse, close relative, or close friend who can be trusted not to sell or squander his or her share of the property.

Transfer or pay-on-death designations. Those who have an account in a bank, savings and loan, or credit union may be able to designate a beneficiary to automatically take the account funds at their deaths; these are called payable-on-death accounts. A similar legal arrangement, a transfer-on-death designation, allows them to register stocks, bonds, and brokerage accounts so that a named survivor takes them automatically at death. Both methods avoid probate.

Powers of attorney for finances. This document allows them to name a trusted person, called an attorney in fact, to handle their financial matters if they become unable to handle them on their own. Durable powers of attorney for finances are mainly preventive documents. If they don't have them and they become mentally incompetent, a judge will have to appoint someone to manage their finances for them -- even if the appointee is unfamiliar with them or their money matters.

Health care directives and powers of attorney for health care. These documents, also called advance health care directives, allow them to instruct healthcare providers about what life-prolonging treatments they want and don't want if they're no longer able to express themselves -- and to name an individual to oversee their care to be sure those wishes are enforced, sometimes in a separate document called a durable power of attorney for health care. Although state laws differ slightly, these directives are usually enforced only if someone is close to death from a terminal condition or in a permanent coma.

Final arrangements. This document will give legal force to their wishes to be considered for body and organ donations, and it can also state their preferences to be buried or cremated. As with other types of documents that take affect after death, they may also choose to name a person to oversee that the stated wishes are carried out as written.