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Estate Planning 101

While not directly related to funeral arrangements and/or preserving one’s identity, each legal document dictating what happens immediately before and after your passing is a piece of the puzzle creating the final picture of your estate.

Now, before you start thinking to yourself about how you don’t have speedboats, pony stables, or early 2000’s rap video opulence, estates are not so much about tax bracket, as they are about protecting your beneficiaries. For example, if Blanche dies, do Sophia and Rose get to keep the house, or does it belong to one of Blanche’s five children? Or, if Blanche dies after season six, does the house go to Dorothy because by then she’s married to Lucas, Blanche’s uncle, and is now a Hollingsworth?

Regardless of your lifestyle (single, married, future Golden Girl; fur babies and/or human babies) and financial situation, becoming familiar with some of the more common terminology and purposes of estate documents will help us separate what’s really important for a proper remembrance.

4 Essential Documents & Their Purposes:

1.) Last Will and Testament: The heart of any estate plan. It’s a powerful and relatively inexpensive document that, depending on complexity, you may be able to make yourself. With a will, you can determine who will inherit your assets, nominate a guardian for your children (animal and/or human), arrange for an adult to manage any assets said children inherit, name an executor, forgive debts, and more.

Do I need one?
Yes. If you do not make a will, you will be classified as having died intestate, and your property will be distributed according to the intestate succession laws of your state. This is a really bad idea, especially for LGBT+ folks, because intestate succession laws rely on the legal relationships of marriage – so if you are not married and your estranged family comes sniffing around, intestate succession laws may leave your partner with no right to your property.

There are a lot of DIY avenues you can use to create your Will on the cheap. Some of the more popular options are LegalZoom, Quicken WillMaker, or Rocket Lawyer. In fact, you can follow this link to start your Rocket Lawyer Will for free.

2.) Living Will: One half of an advance directive. The living will is completely different from a last will and testament. Its purpose is to spell out your end-of-life decisions, like whether or not you want to be kept on life support. This form would be used in conjunction with a Health Care Proxy. So, to recap, the living will states whats supposed to happen, and the health care proxy is the person who will make those things happen. Together, they form your advance directive.

For more information on health care proxies, please read our other post, “What’s a health care proxy and why do I need one?”.

3.) Financial Power of Attorney: Sort of like an advance directive for money, a durable financial power of attorney grants someone legal authority to act on your behalf for financial issues, in the event that you cannot do so yourself. This is important in making sure your best interests are looked after. Here are some things that your agent can do on your behalf:

  • Pay your bills, taxes, medical expenses, etc.
  • Managing your real estate assets
  • Accessing your financial accounts
  • Investing on your behalf
  • Collecting any retirement benefits
  • Transferring and selling your assets
  • Buying insurance for you
  • Operating your small business
  • Hiring someone to represent you

So, clearly, based on this list, there are key opportunities for unscrupulous acquaintances and estranged family members to take advantage.

4.) Living Trust: Just like a will, a living trust spells out exactly what your desires are with regard to your assets, your dependents, and your beneficiaries. The big difference is that a will becomes effective only after you die and your will has been entered into probate (legal process establishing validity of will). A living trust bypasses probate, enabling your successor trustee (who’s basically the same as an executor of a will) to carry out your instructions as documented in your living trust at your death, and also if you’re unable to manage your affairs due to incapacity. Avoiding probate court with a living trust saves money, time, and also ensures your privacy because probate documents are open to the public.

So, if it’s just like a will, do I also need this?

Yes and no. A living trust is a powerful, effective tool for complex financial or personal circumstances, such as a blended family, closely held business interests, or property in other states. Living trusts are also good for unmarried individuals, regardless of financial situation, presuming that their desires can’t be fulfilled by utilizing beneficiary designations and the joint with rights of survivorship titling option and powers of attorney.


Estate Planning on a Budget:

There are a lot of online marketplaces that offer affordable, reliable options for estate planning. Here are a few good options below that offer legal advice, which is especially useful in areas that have limited protection laws for LGBT+ interests.

  • Legalzoom: Packages for 1 ranging from $150-$299; Packages for 2 ranging from $250-$350. *All packages include annually renewing, personal legal advice for a fee of $120.
  • RocketLawyer: For curated a-la-carte documents for the budget-motivated. 7 day free trial with $39.99/mo subscription fee. Non-members pay $39.99 per document, with additional fees for advice, guidance, etc.
  • Quicken Willmaker Plus: Digital software for estate planning created by Nolo, a trusted source of DIY legal paperwork since 1971. The software, which costs $54.95 on CD or by download, will work on Windows 7, 8, 8.1 and 10 or Mac OS 10.10 or higher.

Extras: 2 Additional Documents for Practical Protection:

1.) Create a Letter of Intent: While not legally binding, a letter of intent is a widely recognized way of articulating your post-mortem wishes. It may include information regarding burial or cremation, or a specific bequest of collectibles or personal items.

Read more about letters of intent and download a free template.

2.) Appoint a Funeral Agent: Where applicable, complete an Appointment of Agent to Control Disposition of Remains form to appoint a trusted friend or family member as your ‘funeral agent.’

Learn more about funeral agents in your state and get access to the necessary forms.

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