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Financial Answer Center

Important Legal Documents

Introduction

Once you complete the Estate Wishes worksheet, you have a good idea of what you want to happen to your assets at your death and who will take care of your loved ones. However, without further action on your part, the courts will make these decisions for you and in a fashion you might not like. You need to understand some important documents, and prepare them.

To begin with, you need to prepare a will, a formal document stating how you want your estate distributed. You also need to know how to make changes to your will if necessary later on, and you need to understand what a will cannot do.

You may want to create a trust, a separate legal entity that will control the assets you place into it. You will probably want to prepare a Durable Power of Attorney, in case you become unable to take care of your financial affairs. And you may also want to draw up a Letter of Instruction, a Living Will, and a Medical Durable Power of Attorney.

SUGGESTION: Timing is everything. The only way for any of these documents to be legal is if you are of "sound mind" when you sign them (this mental ability is called "capacity"). If you wait too long to have these documents prepared, illness or injury may cause you to lose capacity. Then it is too late.

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