Estate Planning (Generally)

Planning your estate is no exciting task, but with a knowledgeable lawyer and some guidance, the process can be fairly short and sweet.  Estate planning is something that most people don’t like to think about, but we’ve all heard a loved one or a TV commercial explain how important it is.  Just like with anything else, the more you know, the less intimidating the process can be.  Here are the basics for Louisianians:

Last Will and Testament

Start by making a Last Will and Testament (or a “Will”).  You can schedule an appointment with a licensed attorney who handles estate planning and probate work, or you may even write one yourself.  While handwritten (or “olographic”) testaments can be upheld, certain form requirements must be met, and the process for administering a handwritten Will is often more difficult and costly.

Of course, you may choose instead to seek legal counsel to prepare what is called a “notarial testament” in order to avoid the many issues which can arise with handwritten Wills.  A lawyer will prepare your Will in writing in accordance with your wishes, which will be dated and signed by you and a notary in the presence of two witnesses.  The length, content, and complexities of your testament will vary greatly depending on your estate and any specific wishes that you may have.

Be mindful that there are special provisions in place for the signing of Wills by persons who are unable to read or write.  If someone you know is interested in preparing a Last Will and Testament but has not already done so due to a disability, encourage him or her to contact an attorney for assistance.

Living Will

In addition to preparing a Last Will and Testament, you may also want to prepare a Living Will (or an “Advanced Directive”).  A Living Will is a written declaration stating your wishes regarding life-sustaining treatments in the event that you become terminally ill or suffer from an irreversible condition, such as a stroke.  This is generally a short, simple document asking you to select “yes” or “no” regarding the administration of life-sustaining treatments, followed by your signature.

Power of Attorney

Finally, an attorney can assist you with preparing a General Power of Attorney and a Health Care Power of Attorney.  A General Power of Attorney is a legal contract that allows you to grant certain financial authority to an individual of your choosing (known as your “agent”) to act in your place under certain circumstances.  You can choose to grant your agent limited or general powers over your affairs.  A Health Care Power of Attorney lets you name an agent to make decisions about your health care in the event that you are not able to make those decisions yourself, and it provides instructions about the kinds of medical treatment you want.  Keep in mind that you can designate one person to handle your financial matters while designating a second person to make medical decisions on your behalf.

What's Next?

With that, you’re pretty much set.  If you choose to prepare your own Will, you should keep it in a safe place where it can be easily found by your loved ones after your passing.  You may even want to give an original to someone you trust.  If you choose to have an attorney prepare your documents, both you and your attorney will keep a copy, but you will still want to inform your loved ones that you have prepared such documents and advise them to contact your attorney after any life-altering event.

After your passing, your attorney will present your Will to the court for probate.  This is the legal process that involves validating and administering the provisions contained within your Will.  By this point, you will have done everything in your power to help facilitate the smooth transition of your passing, and you should be proud!

While this is, of course, a simplified version of the estate planning/end of life legal process, I hope that it gives you both peace of mind and the confidence to get your affairs in order.  If you have any questions about these or other useful estate planning tools, such as a Durable Power of Attorney or a Living Trust, feel free to leave a comment.

If you wish to take the next steps to plan your estate, or if you need help revising a current plan, please contact our office.  We would be happy to help!

Learn more about Wills and Estates

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