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Key documents for estate planning

Many people in New York do not have formal estate plans, but almost every person needs one. When a person dies without an estate plan, state intestacy law will govern where their assets are dispersed, and a court will decide who will take care of their minor children. An estate plan can also instruct loved ones about how to care for a person in the event of temporary or permanent incapacity.

Some of the key documents that go into an estate plan are a living will, a durable power of attorney and a last will and testament. A living will, also called an advance health care directive, lets family members know what medical decisions they should make in certain scenarios. A durable power of attorney allows a designated person to take over the financial affairs of a grantor who is incapacitated. A person's wishes about the dispersal of their financial assets and the care of minor children can be addressed in a last will and testament.

Another important part of creating an estate plan is reviewing all of the beneficiary forms on financial accounts. These should be updated to ensure that bank account balances and the proceeds from a 401(k) plan do not go to the wrong people.

A person with a lot of high-value assets or children from a previous marriage might need to set up trusts in order to ensure that their final wishes are carried out. Creating a trust could also save time and expense by ensuring that beneficiaries will not be required to go through probate court. An attorney may be able to assist in estate planning document preparation by reviewing a client's financial and family situation and suggesting the appropriate tools.

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