Unfortunately, if you don’t make a prior arrangements for what will happen to your assets after you pass away, the federal government will step in and make those decisions in your place. Frankly, the decisions that they make it might not be the ones that you would choose yourself. It’s also a very difficult process for your family, and very costly, so preparing a will and doing some estate planning before you go is vital.
A Will is probably the most basic estate planning document that you can make and allows you to leave “instructions” on not only who should handle your affairs but how they should be managed after you pass away. In some cases (although very few) you may be able to make arrangements that allow you to “get around” the need for having a well, but it’s still a good idea to have one just in case.
Frankly, you can do this yourself these days without an attorney by simply downloading forms that are available for free online. On the other hand, a good trusts and estates lawyer will be able to guide you better, point out any problems that you might have and help you to prepare a Will that should leave your family with less problems.
If you have young children one of the most important parts of your Will is the designation of a guardian for them should both you and your spouse pass away before they turn 18 years old. Truth be told, many times parents will not see eye to eye on the choice for guardian but, while the chance of both of you passing away at the same time are quite slim, the consequences of not putting this item into your Will can be devastating. Without a Will a judge can appoint anyone, whether they’re a relative or not, to be guardian of your children. (Keep in mind that informal arrangements count for very little in this situation.)
Depending on your needs and financial situation, you might also need a Trust. Trusts come in two varieties, including revocable and irrevocable. Both of them require an attorney. A revocable trust can be revoked or changed any time that you want after it has been set up, but an irrevocable trust, generally speaking, can not.
While an irrevocable Trust can be either set up while you are still alive or through your Will, a revocable Trust can only be set up while you are alive. Either type of Trust can be used to help manage your affairs as well as distribute your assets once you pass away. In some states they are quite popular but in others they are less popular and less useful.
Finally there is a Healthcare Proxy, a legal document that, should you be unable to make health care decisions for yourself, designates someone to make them for you. It used to be that these were only considered for elderly persons but, since the Virginia Tech shootings of 2007, that thinking has changed. (In that case, some parents of unconscious victims were, due to medical privacy laws, unable to be involved in critical medical decisions for their adult children.)
No matter who you are, if you have any type of assets whatsoever that will need to be distributed to other family members in the case that you pass away, having a Will, Trust and also a Healthcare Proxy will make the decisions much easier and reduce the stress on your loved ones greatly.